I ‘met’ Ulysses in a wonderfully serendipitous moment when he mailed me about the Cambridge Fellows books. He’s such a nice bloke! His answers really made me smile…
So, Ulysses, what inspired you to start writing?
I’ve loved writing fiction since I was in high school (and that was back in the early 1970s). But what really moved me to take a shot at extended fiction was Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat. I’d read Interview with the Vampire as soon as it was published while I was in college, but Lestat’s character made me want to create my own vampire, my answer to Louis and Lestat. I’d begun my vampire passion with Dracula while I was in middle school. I’d always been haunted by the idea that vampires are necessarily evil, that they had to kill to survive. It just didn’t sit right with me.
Do you have another job (paid or otherwise) apart from being an author? If so, how do you juggle your time?
Oh, yes, I’ve had a wonderful career. I’m a curator in an art museum, a specialist in decorative arts. That’s been my job for the past thirty-four years. I have always written for pleasure. Work is nine to five, and much as I love it, I leave it at the door when I get home. I can write in the evenings, early in the morning, on weekends. Of course I wrote Desmond in the late 1980s, and I wasn’t as busy then. I did the revisions on Desmond in the late 1990s while my newly-adopted children were taking their naps. Vampire in Suburbia was much later, and I just made the time to write. It became a personal challenge to fit it into my life.
What did it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest? Does that change with the second?
There was a ten-year gap between writing Desmond and having it published. I’d published books before Desmond, but not fiction. There’s something special—unforgettable—about seeing what you’ve written appear in print, and fiction is somehow more personal than expository writing—or at least is for me. That first book came out under the now defunct Alyson Books imprint in 1998, and holding that first paperback copy in my hand was unbelievable. The second book was just as exciting, but a very different experience, since I went with a small online publishing house and had much more control over the process. It was still a huge rush—I got the rights to Desmond back from the original publisher so I could bring both books out together as e-books, with new covers.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
I’m pretty clearly character driven. The story matters to me, but the people in my books are the crux of what they mean to me. I haven’t worried too much about character tangents, since I have a fairly clear idea of who people are before I really get writing. I write because the characters are there and I need to give them a story to bring them to life. I’ve relied on my editors to keep me on track in terms of plot. I do tend to get caught up in tangential details, which I suspect is the weakness of being a curator. Desmond suffers a bit from too much description of things. I corralled that in for Vampire in Suburbia and I think it helped a great deal.
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
My gut instinct would be Desmond, of course. He’s the sort of man I wish I was. Only has limited success being a hero, but it’s his instinct to help, to save people. Then again, Roger Deland, Desmond’s oldest friend, is a pretty great guy, too. (He’s also a redhead, and I have a real thing about redheads.) But Roger is straight, so I think I’d rather trust my life to Desmond. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being straight, mind you. *snicker*)
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
I tried for months to conjure up a plot for a third book with Desmond and Roger in it—I even had a title: Vampire in the White House. Couldn’t get it started. But what I really want to do now is a memoir. And not just for vanity’s sake, for the challenge of a new kind of writing. I think I could write a memoir that was interesting and, more importantly, amusing. Not to mention marketable. My own life has been pretty sedate, but the fact that I am who I am, given the fairly exotic background in my family, strikes me as funny. I’m a mild-mannered middle-aged gay curator, with a husband of nearly forty years and two teenaged kids. But in the generations before me I have an American president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Russian Princess, a Gilded Age industrialist and assorted other characters who share my DNA. It makes me wonder at the accident of my birth. And, of course, that’s my title: Accident of Birth.
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn’t finish?
I’m pretty determined, once I’ve started a book. But I took up Tolstoy’s War and Peace three times and never finished it. Admittedly, it was in French, but still, the story just never grabbed me. I worked my way through Anna Karenina in French, and I’m a big Dickens fan, but War and Peace defeated me.
What’s your favourite gay romance/other genre book? And why?
That’s such an impossible question! First off, I have to make it clear that I took to gay romance and other gay fiction in a big way because it was such a relief from the complete dominance of heterosexuality in mainstream publishing. The increasing visibility and acceptance that gay folk have found has resulted in very little beyond tokenistic changes in the books that become successful or receive serious attention. Gay people are nearly as invisible in mainstream publishing now as they were when I was in college.
And, being a deeply romantic person, gay romance has become an emotional shelter for me. I’ve learned to avoid the really bad books (as there are in every genre—oh, please, have you tried to read 50 Shades of Gray?); and I think the range and quality of gay fiction in all genres today is astonishing. In the end, I think it would have to be Harper Fox’s Life After Joe. I don’t think it’s her greatest book, but it introduced me to her writing. For me, Harper embodies everything about gay romance that convinces me that this genre deserves far more recognition in the mainstream literary world than it gets. The writing is beautiful, the plot strong, the characters compelling and real. To me, so much of straight mainstream lit is pretentious and self-involved. Many gay romance writers deserve far more public admiration than they get. (And, I am NOT sucking up to my interviewer: your Cambridge Don series was a real milestone for me, as well. Those books are the heirs to E.M. Forster’s Maurice. I might actually have listed Maurice if Forester had had the guts to publish it in his lifetime.)
What’s your next project?
I think it really will be that memoir. Although, you never know; I keep thinking about a time-travel novel with a gay curator. The whole idea of setting curators loose in the past to rescue lost treasures gives me shivers. Who knows?
And, (just as a flavour of what else he’s written) Dream House.