Hayden has a new book that released on April 14, 2013, from Queerteen Press, called Gold in the Clouds, a project she’s here to tell us a bit more about, as well as offering an excerpt from the novel AND giving one lucky reader the chance to win an eCopy of the book! Read on to see how to enter to win.
Q. When did you start writing creatively, and who was your greatest literary influence?
A. I started out writing cartoon strips with my younger sister. We used to deface our family encyclopedias by doodling in the margins, which, obviously, didn’t go down very well with our parents. But we got blank notebooks and filled those up with crazy stories and weird characters. I remember writing a comic strip about a family that got stranded on Easter Island. That was long, long before I knew that Easter Island wasn’t a Robinson Crusoe type of place.
I didn’t pick up the pen again till around 2000, when I got sucked into the Gundam Wing fandom. Eventually I messed around with Kaze to Ki no Uta, literary slash, and then original fiction, mostly short. It wasn’t until around 2006 when I started publishing short stories for anthologies (adult, by the way). I got tapped by the editors of Prizm Books to contribute material for their new LGBT Young Adult imprint, and things snowballed from there.
My greatest literary influence is Charles Dickens. His books were one of my first forays into classic literature in high school alongside Victor Hugo, and I adored – still adore – his works. His books were instrumental in broadening my horizons from J.R.R. Tolkien to some pretty heavy stuff, and I’ve absorbed what I could of his characterization. I think that element right there is what inspired me the most. He’s not a perfect writer and is the worst when it comes to the use of coincidence in plots, but his characters are incredible. I’ve always wanted to write teenagers (and even adults as side characters) who stand out in some way or other and leave some kind of impression in readers’ minds.
Q. What was the first of your books to be published?
A. It was a group thing, so to speak. Prizm Books opened their doors with Icarus in Flight, Banshee, and Masks: Rise of Heroes. Those books plus additional titles from other authors.
Q. If someone had never read your work before but was getting ready to dive in, what’s the one thing you’d want them to know before they purchased one of your books?
A. Hmm. That I’m no romance writer, even in YA. I remember having some readers react in shock at realizing that Desmond and Garrick weren’t going to get together because their names are front and center in the series’ title. But my main point is friendship developing between two completely disparate characters. I prefer to focus on other relationships involving gay kids in my stories, and I really enjoy exploring families and friends as opposed to love interests. Romance is always secondary to whatever the main conflict is.
I’m also not a writer of contemporary issues faced by gay teens. When I do write about them, it’s always removed from the real world, i.e., I love playing with metaphors and symbols. By and large, I want to write gay kids as individuals who’re much more than their sexual orientation. I prefer to write them no differently from the way I’d write about straight kids. My fairy tales, especially the novels, don’t even make a big deal about homosexuality unless a side character decides to twist it for a reason.
Q. You’ve often said you write in a very niche segment of the LGBT YA market. How do you come up with the ideas for your books, especially for those like The Twilight Gods and Renfred’s Masquerade which, to this day, are two of my all-time favorites?
A. The “preferred genre” for LGBT YA fiction remains contemporary coming-out novels or issues-based novels. You’ll see a lot of those books being published by the larger, more mainstream presses, with occasional fantasy fiction mixed in. And there’s a good reason for that, of course. LGBT kids will always need them, no matter what generation we’re looking at. But at the same time, the even smaller market for genre fiction for LGBT teens is slowly growing, thanks to small, independent presses who aren’t afraid of taking chances. Those books have yet to win over the majority of gatekeepers in the LGBT YA world, but they’re holding steady, and I don’t see them going away at any time soon. As far as the importance of speculative fiction for LGBT teens is concerned, it’s just as needed as coming-out novels; if we want to help these kids find their courage to be who they are, why can’t we write about them in every genre out there?
I tend to find inspiration in art: music, visual arts, literature. The Twilight Gods was inspired by a Native American folktale and is in fact a retelling of the story. When I first read the folktale, I saw so many connections between the imagery of death, the skeletons, and the marriage with the more negative beliefs that too many of us still have regarding homosexuality. But music tends to have a stronger influence on my writing. Renfred’s Masquerade was inspired by Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” in the sense that when I listened to the piece, a number of images and, again, connections came to mind. A masquerade, for sure, was one of them. The context of Offenbach’s piece also made me think of reality vs. fantasy because the aria is sung by a doll, with whom a man falls in love and believes to be real. Plus I couldn’t help but picture two people in a boat or gondola leaving—but it wasn’t a happy image.
Classical music to me is the best source of story inspiration. Each piece works on my imagination in ways that are different from another, but overall, it’s the emotions roused by these pieces that I zero in on and use to influence the way the plot unravels. Strong emotions tend to give rise to images, which can lead to something more, etc. I recently blogged about Carl Orff’s “Gassenhauer” and how it’s helping me sort through my difficulties with a story I’ve been having trouble with. The piece is very short, very light, and very playful—a child’s song, almost. But it’s helped me work out some kinks in a story that I had to set aside for the time being because the emotions affected by it really fit the tone of the story, which is very whimsical.
Q. You have a new book just released from QueerTeen Press called Gold in the Clouds. Would you tell us a little bit about the story, where you found the inspiration for it, and perhaps share an excerpt with us?
A. Gold in the Clouds is “Jack and the Beanstalk” as witnessed by Jack’s gay best friend, Blythe Midwinter. It’s a fantasy and a comedy along the same lines as Rose and Spindle, but it’s snarkier. The novel’s conflict revolves around Blythe’s self-worth and the constant struggle in him regarding wealth and luck because he’s poor, and he’s tired of being poor. It doesn’t help him any that, on one hand, his best friend happens to be a lazy little bugger and prefers to wait for Lady Luck to shower him with gold and so on, and on the other hand, his sister keeps rubbing his nose into the value of honest, hard work despite their poverty.
Inspiration for this story came a long time ago. I was toying with the idea of writing a picaresque series involving two gay kids (boyfriends, to be brief) who run away and try to find how they fit in a number of fairy tale plots, and one of them was “Jack and the Beanstalk”. I pictured them both standing around the chopped-up beanstalk and staring at it forlornly, wondering why they couldn’t be a part of the adventure. My rationale behind the series is like a satirical stab at different fairy tales—especially those princess ones—and how cool it would be to have LGBT kids be a part of those adventures. Or maybe even create their own or add an unexpected turn of events to one that’s already existing.
The series idea died pretty quickly, but I liked the idea of telling familiar fairy tales from the point-of-view of side characters who didn’t exist in the original stories. So Rose and Spindle and Gold in the Clouds came about, but for the next one, I’d like to go back and write an original fairy tale.
* * * * *
(excerpt from Chapter 2)
The sound of rumbling carriage wheels broke through the lovely calm, and Blythe looked up to watch a handsome private coach being pulled by an even handsomer team of horses along the dirt road on the other side of the river. The liveried driver sat straight and proud, his nose high even as he guided the gleaming horses with skill and confidence.
“I’d love to have one of those,” Jack said in breathless tones.
“You’ll have to work for it.”
“I know. It’s not fair, I tell you.”
Blythe followed the coach’s progress till it vanished behind some trees and dense shrubbery. “I suppose you can always gamble for it.”
“I don’t have any money to gamble with, you oaf.”
Blythe tried not to roll his eyes again. “Sell something, then. One of your cows, for one thing.”
“Mama and I only have one cow,” Jack retorted. “I don’t think she’ll take to selling it. I mean, where will we get our milk?”
“Then find a job, you lazy dog!”
Jack let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a fart, and he stumbled to his feet, brushing grass and dirt off his ragged trousers. “Dear God, you sound like Mama. Worse, you sound like a wife. I’m going home.”
Blythe shook his head as he watched Jack yawn and stretch his long, bony arms, twisting his torso and cracking his back when he did.
“A wife,” Blythe said. “That’s what you need, Jack. A wife. Preferably a rich one.”
Jack made a face and lightly slapped the top of Blythe’s head with an open hand. “Don’t be stupid. I’ll never marry. I’d rather go off on grand adventures and come back rich.”
“If so, then you’ll have dozens of girls running after you and your money.”
“Ha! They’ll never get a penny from me!”
Blythe grinned as he threw another stone in the river. “I doubt if your mama will be too happy about that. I’m sure she’ll be demanding grandchildren from you someday.”
“Bah! I’ll be the one bringing home the gold, not her! If she wants to stay on my good side, she’ll keep her nose out of my business and let me have my way!”
A sudden movement just off to the right side of the road across from them caught Blythe’s attention, and he cackled as he gave Jack’s leg a sharp slap.
“Speaking of staying on one’s good side, it looks like you haven’t gotten that far with your mama.”
A plump, red-faced woman walked into view, her ragged gown and smock as well as her bonnet caked with road dust. On one hand she held a particularly large rolling pin, and from what Jack had told him, it was never used for baking.
“Jack Wicket!” she hollered, turning her head left and right. “Where are you, you no good lout?”
Jack stuck two fingers into his mouth and whistled—a shrill siren that always set Blythe’s teeth on edge and send nearby dogs howling. Mrs. Wicket stopped dead and caught sight of the boys, and if her face was red then, it turned nearly black upon clapping eyes on her son.
“Jack! What the devil are you doing? Get your lazy, bony arse back home right this instant if you value your worthless hide!” she screeched, waving her rolling pin wildly in the air. “Didn’t I tell you to chop wood? Didn’t I? You’ve had all this time, and you never bothered to do one simple thing?”
For his part, Jack looked to be taking it all in stride. He stood silently for a moment, allowing his hysterical mother to unburden herself so passionately and convincingly, before turning and saluting Blythe.
“I’ll be dreaming of riches while she thrashes me,” he said and then strode off, hands in tattered pockets, and sang a vulgar drinking song. As to where and how he’d learned it, Blythe couldn’t even begin to guess.
* * * * *
Q. I love to ask this question because I get so many different answers: if you could sit down to dinner with anyone, past or present, first of all, whom would it be, and second, what’s the one question you’d be dying to ask?
A. I’d love to sit down with John Keats and ask him how he came up with such gorgeous, gorgeous poetry. I’ll probably be too emotional to hear what he’d say, though, and will likely end the conversation blubbing over how lovely he is and how sorry I am that we never get to see him write more glorious verses till his old age.
Q. Do you have a favorite fictional character? If so, whom and why?
A. I don’t, sorry. There are just way too many great, memorable characters I’ve read that no one really stands out.
Q. Of all the characters you yourself have created, do you have a favorite, and same as above, whom and why?
A. I’d say Eric Plath from the Masks series. That boy’s my free personal therapist. He’s got the confidence and especially the balls to do things that would get me locked up in a convent if I even attempted any of them. He’s everything I’m not, both as an adult and when I was a teenager, and it’s incredibly liberating, writing him in so many adventures—especially when he shoots his mouth off and tries to sass his way out of an argument with his parents and ends up getting grounded or punished for it.
Q. Along the same lines: if you were to choose your favorite among all the books you’ve written, what would it be and why?
A. I’d say Renfred’s Masquerade (a really tough choice between that and Desmond and Garrick). It’s the novel that comes the closest to the kind of book I’d love to be known for as a writer of speculative LGBT YA fiction. It’s an original fairy tale that makes use of the setting as part of the characters, so to speak, and the fantasy elements really played themselves out as well as I’d hoped. I really enjoyed the writing process, too, especially the masquerade scenes, and I even put together a playlist over at YouTube to listen to while working on the rough draft. It’s also the first book I wrote where I didn’t ease up on the darker or more tragic elements and was able to tie things neatly together at the end without making the conclusion implausible or, worse, laughable. I managed to do something similar with The Glass Minstrel, but Renfred’s Masquerade unfolded more smoothly and less tentatively compared to the other book. If anything, how the book ended is inevitable; there really was no other way for Gustav, Constanza, and Jacopo’s story to conclude, and while I was tempted to do something along the lines of a deus ex machina, I held back and let logic dictate the final events. I suppose I could sum things up by saying that this was the first book where I went all out with my imagination and didn’t regret a single decision I made.
Q. How involved are you in the process of coming up with just the right cover art for your books?
A. Very involved. I usually start looking for images to use when I’m almost done with my rough draft. I collect as many links as possible and share those with my publisher. Sometimes we decide which image would work best with the book, and sometimes I decide which one and send my preferred image instead of a collection of links. My publisher takes care of acquiring the image and tweaking the graphics. If you’ve noticed, all books published by Queerteen Press don’t have boys on their covers; that’s my preference. I don’t like having people on my book covers and would rather work with the story’s theme. I find that I have a lot more freedom choosing images that way, and readers’ mental images of my characters aren’t already fixed before they start reading.
Q. How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
A. I think my sense of humor is dry /deadpan, and I’ve got my dad to thank for it. The man had some pretty powerful genes because every one of us has that sense of humor; my mom was the only killjoy in my family.
My favorite comedy series of all time is Blackadder, and that series pretty much encapsulates what I consider to be the best kind of comic writing on TV. Wee caveat: I don’t care much for Blackadder I save for “The Queen of Spain’s Beard” because the humor comes across as a bit strained. I think the writing vastly improved from Series II and onward.
Q. Do you have any other works-in-progress you’d like to share a few details about?
A. I’m currently expanding a novelette I’ve already contracted with Queerteen Press called “The Weeping Willow”. It’s an original fairy tale that started out pretty light and whimsical—rather sentimental, even, but we’re changing that, aren’t we?—that was also supposed to be a part of a new single author anthology. Unfortunately things didn’t pan out with that project, so it’s been shelved for now, and I’m given the green light to work on “The Weeping Willow” some more.
It’s going to turn into a gothic folktale with a lot of supernatural elements worked into the main plot. There’s really not much more to say at the moment since I’m practically starting over with the story, but I’ll definitely be sharing more with readers as I go along over at my blog.
Q. Where can readers find you on the internet?
A. My wee corner of the web is over at http://haydenthorne.com/
**And now, on to the contest!
All you need to do to enter to win a copy of Gold in the Clouds is leave a comment for Hayden right here. Please remember to include your email address so we know how to contact you for delivery of the eBook. This contest will run through 11:59pm Pacific Time on Friday, April 19, 2013.
A single winner will be selected via Random.org and notified on Saturday, April 20, 2013 for prize delivery.
Thanks so much for participating, and good luck!**