My guest interview this week is Anel Viz, author of many diverse literary fiction, by his own admission claims, “As a writer, I am first and foremost a stylist. I agonize over finding the right word…”
Where do you live? City, town, island, country?
I’m planning to move to Minneapolis in the next year or so, but for now I own a home half block away from the Mississippi River (but I can’t see it because the hospital is in the way) in small city in the center of Minnesota. Although here in the Upper Midwest most people would probably describe it as medium size, it still has a small town feel to it. Still, the population has more than doubled since I moved here some 38 years ago. Mind you, now, where I live has just about zero connection with who I am. I grew up in New York City (Bronx, Queens, Manhattan) and have lived over one-fifth of my life in French-speaking countries, mostly France itself, half a block away from the Mediterranean with a clear view of it from my balcony.
Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
Tell me about it. I totally suck at promo, and I mean that literally. (I mean the “totally”—“suck” is a figure of speech.) So I will take your statement as a challenge and toot away. My greatest accomplishment? Hasn’t happened yet. That would be having someone not merely review one my books (something that doesn’t happen a lot to begin with) but write an essay about it or about my work as a whole—real, honest-to-goodness literary analysis à la “Graves of Academe”. (Yep, I’m one of those, by training and profession.) Of course it will be a cold day in hell before that happens, so I’ll take advantage of your invitation and do a little literary self-analysis. Please don’t stop reading. Let me explain. I’m a writer of gay-themed fiction who aspires to be a literary mainstream author but lacks either the talent, the experience, or both. I fully realize that, like “liberal” (and just as undeservedly), “literary” has acquired pejorative connotations in some circles. If a book is boring, flowery or pretentious they call it literary. That, however, is pseudo-literary. Lord knows my books have been slammed, especially on Goodreads, but to the best of my knowledge nobody has ever called them boring, flowery or pretentious. A truly literary work is beautifully written, meaty, and makes you think. Now, there is no reason a gay romance can’t be literary, but let’s face it—most of ’em ain’t. There’s no lack of great gay poetry, and I can think of a number of excellent gay-themed novels (Mary Renault and Alan Hollinghurst immediately come to mind) and a few classics with gay subtexts (Gide, Musil, Wilde, etc.), but off hand only three in-your-face gay novels I’d call masterpieces. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were more? Bet everyone’s wondering what those three in-your-face gay masterpieces are. Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Hadrian’s Memoirs, and Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. Just my opinion, of course.
Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?
My wife and I separated 23½ years ago but we’re still legally married. Why (both why we split and why we haven’t divorced) would be getting too personal. We have two grown (but not grown up) sons. I’ve been with my only ever boyfriend (not telling his name) for ten years, and he moved in with me four years ago. He’s been divorced twice, has a son plus three step-children, and is the reason I insist that “gay for so-and-so” really does exist. (Pace, ye naysayers.) We got our current dog (Steve—his name you can know) two and a half years ago. I’ve always had dogs. Anything else? Oh, yeah. “Only ever boyfriend” emphatically does not mean only ever male sex partner. Going into more detail on that one would be getting too personal and might even result in FB closing down your group.
Where do you write?
Here, at my laptop in front of the living room window, with a six-story brick hospital blocking my view of the river.
What inspires and challenges you most in writing?
The craft. As a writer, I am first and foremost a stylist. I agonize over finding the right word; I read every paragraph aloud to make sure it flows; I endlessly tweak the narrator’s voice; I make use of and develop recurring motifs and fret about their placement; I strive to come up with realistic dialogue while making every word count; I’m always asking my betas if I’m belaboring a point or sound preachy; I work and rework the arc of the story, putting in glimpses of what will happen later (in the words of one reviewer “just enough to tweak your curiosity but not give anything”) as well as surprising twists that in the words of another “seem inevitable in hindsight.” Yet for me the greatest challenge by far is creating authentic, multi-dimensional characters. I write psychological fiction. (Literary fiction I only aim at; psychological fiction I actually do write.) In order to make my characters real, I make them the product of their culture (not the reader’s culture), individuate them (the stereotypes in the Kaleidoscope story Roomies only play at being types), and take pains to tell the reader less about them than s/he needs to know. As I say in the preface to Kaleidoscope, “Every human mind is unique, a jumble of ever-changing ideas, assumptions, emotions, desires, conflicts, intentions, certainties, doubts and, yes, fears; a personality too complex to be seen as a whole. We never truly know another person; we do not truly understand ourselves.” Let me add to that that no amount of therapy, psychoanalysis or blinding flashes of epiphany will ever reveal the totality of any person’s unconscious thoughts or subconscious. Real people do not conform exactly to textbook definitions, nor does any psychological study, however exhaustive, lay out a complete person. So when I come across a neat explanation of a character’s motivations in a work of fiction, that character immediately loses some depth. When an author tells me exactly what makes his or her tick, they flatten out entirely. There are some things even an omniscient narrator cannot know.
You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) want to know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?
Both and neither. With shorter stories, I often (but not always) get an idea, start at the beginning and write straight through, plotting by the seat of my pants. For longer stories, novellas and novels, I start with characters in a situation and work out from there in both directions but not chronologically and still undecided which, if any, of those characters will be my protagonist. By the time I’m about half done, certainly by the time the work is 80% finished, I have a fairly good idea of a more or less complete plot, but well before figured out what that plot is going to be, I had carefully worked out the arc and structure of the story line. I know the pacing of my books before I know everything that’s going to happen in them or how they will end. For example, in City of Lovely Brothers, I decided on a four part structure within a narrative frame and having the historian-narrator introduce each part in the first person, and that the four parts would be Caliban’s from birth until he fractures his hip, from Caliban’s return to the ranch until Nick moves in with him, Caliban’s and Nick’s life together on the ranch, and the fourth after they leave the ranch—all that before I knew exactly what would happen in any of the parts except for the sections scattered around the novel that I had already written, before I got the idea for many of the crucial secondary characters, including Amanda, Hester, Calvin Jr., Jake, Logan, and Troilus Pardoner, to name a few. But you want to know about my thrillers and suspense, not my historicals. So your answer is: Yes, I do plot, but I don’t plot plot. And I’m most “seat of my pants-like” when it comes to my characters, which I never plan. I delve into them and discover what’s there.
How do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)? I don’t. I retired a little over a year ago, I’ve already said I suck at promo, my blog is moribund, and FB sends me into sensory overload, causing my brain to shut down.
You have proven yourself a master and many genres, including Drama, Thriller and Suspense. How do you prepare shifting your muse to tackle a new genre?
You left out historical and humor (for two), and I’ve written more of each of those than the three you mention put together. Thing is, though, I don’t think in terms of genre except insofar as I’m a genre bender. Why worry about shifting my muse when my muse is going to shift the genre? I love to toy with my readers and to do it in subtle ways so they don’t realize I’m constantly playing push-the-genre-envelope games. Here’s an example I don’t believe anyone has picked up on. One of the so-called challenges of first person narrator romance is how to work in a description of the main character. The cliché solution is to have him look in a mirror. In P’tit Cadeau, which is on my mind because I read an excerpt from it at GRL, the narrator is an artist and I describe most of his paintings in elaborate detail with particular focus on color. In the course of the novel, he does a self-portrait. I give the composition, the setting, how he’s posed, what he (isn’t) wearing, etc., but not a word about what he looks like. No eye color, no haircut, no complexion, no toothy smile, no shoe size—nada. In the end, the only physical attributes we know for sure are his age, that he’s circumcised, and what little we can infer about his build from how he fits together with his model and lover, whom I describe repeatedly. But here I am again, going on and on about a genre other than the one this interview is supposedly about. On the other hand, given the mind games I like to play, is it any wonder I’m drawn to drama, thriller and suspense? (Make that non-traditional drama, thriller and suspense.)
With Horror, Dark & Lite, the two-volume parallel structure preceded all the stories in them except for the first and last. I got the rights back to two of my earliest publications that had appeared in multi-author anthologies—a scary vampire novella and a comic shifter short story—that I wanted to revise and re-release. Both of them already pushed the genre envelope: a first person narrator who doesn’t know what his own story is about (to wit that his lover is a werewolf) and a vampire story without vampires. (By the way, The Frenchman, a free read accessible in the archives of Wilde Oats online magazine, is a shifter story with no shifters in it.) All seven stories in the horror collection twist their traditional genre in a different way. Val uses vampirism as a metaphor for obsession and domination in a piling up of graphic sex scenes parallel to what is going on in the characters’ lives outside of the bedroom. On the surface, the surfeit of non-stop sex seems gratuitous, but as one reviewer pointed out when they finally “come up for air, their lives have been irrevocably changed” so clearly it does advance the plot. Slasher resembles Photographic Memories in my Kaleidoscope anthology in that it is best described as a non-whodunit except in this case they catch the perp. I throw in enough red herrings along the way to open a seafood restaurant, including some that cast suspicion on one of the main characters a couple of pages after a scene that provides him a watertight alibi. On top of that, it contains a handful of episodes that are variants of scenes from my favorite scary movies. The Matador is an historical novella that gradually moves from realistic social commentary to paranormal shifter, then back and forth between the two, so structurally the work itself is a shifter. As vampirism is a sexual metaphor in Val, bullfighting works allegorically in The Matador: Goading the bull is a kind of foreplay, goring stands in for anal intercourse, the estocada a muerte for orgasm, etc. And vice versa. So one can’t call it a metaphor because which element is the image and which the reality are constantly shifting. Similarly, each story in the “lite” volume draws on a different type of comedy.
You have published Anthologies and short story collections; including the suspense/thriller horror anthologies, Dark Horror and Horror Lite. Which of the stories in the collections frightened you the most and why? (I’ve read Slasher, which opens at a helluva pace – what could be scarier than a brutal murder in a gay bathhouse!)
This interview. (Just kidding, though it wouldn’t surprise me if all this literary self-analysis has scared most of your readers away.) None of the “lite” stories are scary. The part in the vampire story where the Viet Bloedrank returns to the hotel room after feeding comes closest, but there’s no real feeling of threat, in my opinion. The stalker story has plenty of creepy moments, but that’s all they are—creepy. In the dark volume, Slasher has the highest concentration of scary scenes, one of which you mention. A sensation of dread permeates the opening, although no one is in immediate danger. But for the reader, I think the dark alley with the cloned vampiric hustlers lurking in the shadows in Val (although that scene has its origin in a tongue-in-cheek bit of wordplay) or when Soledad encounters the bull in a deserted street in The Matador are more frightening. Or the scene in The Matador where… But that would be a spoiler. Curiously, what was most frightening for me would be the least frightening of them all to read: Bryce Olson is Pregnant, the aliens story in Horror Lite. Once I was working on it, jumping from scene to scene in random order as usual, the writing process terrified me because I had no idea how I was going to end it right up until I wrote the ending. It had become apparent that the ending had to be the punch line, but, while I was sticking jokes in right and left, I wasn’t sure what the joke was. How’s that for seat-of-your-pants writing?
After your book(s) come out, have had you ever had to deal with homophobia, and if so, what form has it taken?
No, never. But very few people know that I’m Anel Viz, and Anel Viz only surfaces as a living, breathing person at conventions like GRL. And when he’s just a virtual author noodling around on line, he pays as little attention to personal homophobic attacks as he does to negative trolling reviews on Goodreads.
On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre really want to know.
My pleasure, and I hope I haven’t overstepped the boundaries of self-promotion in the process.
Last question; will you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP? Huh? You’re asking for more horn tooting? Okay, here goes. I have too many Ws IP to count, so I’ll push my most recent release (last May), which finally came out in print a month ago, is a Rainbow Award finalist, and you yourself generously and enthusiastically reviewed on Alan Chin’s Gay/Lesbian Fiction Book Reviews blog, for which I thank you again. We’ve all heard some readers complain about a book because they don’t like the main character. Well, the main character in Alma’s Will is a homophobic woman with no redeeming qualities I can think of off-hand. Livia Redding was one of those characters who take over a story that wasn’t meant to be hers, and I rank her as one of my most vivid, real and complex creations. She’s is the kind of person you “have to” feel sorry for but don’t because she’s so vicious. But while the gay characters in the book have been hurt by bigotry and their wounds have not entirely healed, at most Liv’s homophobia complicates their lives, pisses them off and upsets them. Although a generation earlier her interference would have been devastating, in spite all her bad-mouthing and machinations, she inflicts no real damage. The gays are the survivors; Liv is the victim, destroyed by her own hatred and used by the fundamentalist Christians who don’t give a damn about her and only adopt her to further their cause. In the end she learns nothing except her own powerlessness, which makes her no less dangerous as a source of contagion. Unfortunately, there are plenty more like her. (Can I go now?)
Where on the web to find Anel Viz: