Greetings all, and we hope you had a fantastic New Year! I’m here today with DSP Publications’ answer to Stephen King, John Inman, author of the newly released horror novel Willow Man. Actually, he’s kind of DSP Publications’ answer to lots of things, so let’s get right to it, shall we?
Carole: You’ve written a range of works in different genres, from romance to mystery to zombie humor, and now horror. The common thread through most of your work seems to be gay lit, so with that in mind, tell us about your genre.
John: The way I see it the gay genre isn’t much different than straight lit as far as the writing goes. The same principals of construction apply. The same plot devices are brought into play. It’s still just as tricky in gay lit as it is in straight to create a story line from start to finish that doesn’t fall flat on its face somewhere along the line. The only real difference is that in the gay genre, a predominance of the characters are gay, natch. And being a gay man, that to me is what makes the writing of gay lit fun. I don’t have to pretend to be anything I’m not. I can truly draw from my own experiences, whereas delving into the thought processes of a straight person always makes me feel like I’m walking on pudding, just a teeny bit unsure of every step I’m taking. When you say, “tell us about your genre”, the first words that come to my mind are this — writing gay lit makes me feel at home. It’s where I belong. It’s where I love to be. And that’s what this genre means to me.
Carole: Tell us about Willow Man.
John: The idea for Willow Man was born from an actual experience of mine. One September morning all the way back in 1978, I was standing at my dining room window when I heard a loud boom in the sky. Looking up I saw a jetliner, with flames spewing from the side, angling down toward the earth. And to my left I saw a small plane tail-spinning straight down in freefall. When the jetliner struck the earth less than half a mile from where I stood, shaking the very floor beneath my feet, the explosion was deafening and the sky across the city grew immediately dark with black, billowing smoke. 144 people died that day when PSA Boeing 727 Flight 182 collided over San Diego with a small Cessna. It was 9:01 in the morning. I’ll never forget it. When the idea to write a horror story came to me, I knew, since that plane crash was one of the most horrific things I had ever witnessed, I would somehow have to incorporate it into the story. So I did. There was no prisoner on board PSA that day as depicted in the book, or none that I know of. Nor was there a detective taking him to justice. But I thought, what better way to bring a monster to life? And wouldn’t it be fate’s greatest irony, to let the one truly evil man on board be the only one to survive the crash? In malevolent spirit, at least. And now that I had the bad guy, I had to find his adversaries. And to me, one of my favorite aspects of horror stories is the juxtaposition of good and evil, purity and cruelty. That’s why much of the story is told from the viewpoint of children. For what good is horror, without innocence for the horror to prey upon?
Carole: So, as with most DSP Publications books, we shouldn’t mistake this for a romance, then.
John: While there is a love story in Willow Man, it is most certainly not the main crux of the story. I suppose that is why this book fits better in the DSP Publications imprint, rather than the more Romance-oriented DSP. But to be honest, it is a fine line that is often a little blurred in my mind. Why DO some books fall under Romance, while others don’t quite make the cut? And rather than drive myself nuts worrying about it, this is where a writer’s faith in his publisher comes to bear. I leave it up to DSP to steer my books in whichever direction they choose. Hell, I’m just thrilled to death to be published at all. And the wise souls at Dreamspinner Press know what they are doing far more than I do. I just write. That’s all I do. That’s all I WANT to do. I envy those writers who are masters at marketing themselves. I truly do. But that’s not me. I don’t much worry about the business end of the trade. That’s why, when you are lucky enough to find a publisher you trust completely, as I have done, you can just concentrate on the writing. And to be able to do that, my friend, is a treasure like no other.
Carole: So, you’ve told us about that horrible plane crash and the inspiration for this story—how did it evolve from that devastating scene you witnessed and into Willow Man?
John: This story was a long time coming. I have worked on it off and on for several years. Long before I was ever published at all, in fact. It is one of my first submissions to DSP and they held it for years while waiting for the new imprint to come to fruition. And as I was saying earlier about trust, DSP was exactly right in holding back on its release. Because of that decision, Willow Man now has a truly comfortable home with DSP Publications. Before, it would have been a DSP novel that would never have really fit in with the rest of DSP’s romance-driven catalog. It’s hard to carry a romantic storyline within the confines of a true horror story, because horror is just too overpowering for romance, I think. People who buy romance novels, want romance. People who buy horror, want horror. Maybe now, with DSP Publications alive and kicking, we writers can play with both themes at once, within the boundaries of the same book, dropping in just enough of one to season the taste of the other. It makes the writing a lot more fun to know you can go wherever it is you want to go without the restrictions of a strictly romantic plotline hanging over your head. But don’t get me wrong. I love writing romance. The more sugary the better. The wooing, the winning, the sex, it’s all great, and I get as gooshy as the next person reading it. But with DSP Publications up and running, it’ll be fun to be able to spice up those stories with a little gore and mayhem now and then. I’m smiling right now because just thinking about it makes my fingers itch for the keyboard.
Carole: Okay, you had a novel just waiting around for years, waiting for a suitable publisher to invent itself because before now, one simply didn’t exist. Why wait? Why not just change it and mainstream it? Why did this story need to be told with the M/M dynamic?
John: I have been writing my entire life. Short stories and poems when I was a kid, novels as an adult. As an adult, almost every book I have written, and that numbers about 20, was told under the umbrella of a M/M dynamic. Probably because, as they say, you should write what you know, and since I’m gay, what the hell was I supposed to write about? Lumberjacks? Well, maybe SOME lumberjacks. Heehee. Wait, I’m getting off track. The simple truth is, I was writing M/M before I ever knew there was an actual market out there for it. God knows I wasted enough years sending manuscripts to the wrong publishers. Which reminds me, by the way. A good tip for aspiring writers? Research publishers before you waste their time and yours sending them stuff they don’t deal with. I learned that one the hard way, but then, I’ve always been a slow learner. And truthfully, the whole marketing thing is a huge mystery to me anyway. Like I said before, writing is what I love. I leave all the other stuff to wiser heads than my own.
Carole: And lastly—here’s a question authors either love or hate, but I think it’s one of the first ones we answer for ourselves: Why do you write?
John: And there it is. The million dollar question. Why do any of us do what we do? Why does my next door neighbor edit chemistry textbooks for a living, and pride himself on doing it the best he possibly can? Why does my partner tear himself up running marathons at the ripe old age of 65, and then come home so tired he can barely walk but still beaming like a lighthouse with a million-watt grin on his face? I write because it is something I was born to do. I can think of no other reason. I did it as a child. I do it as an adult. I’ve grown tired of a lot of things in the long course of my life, but writing is not one of them. Every minute of the process is fun. Even the minutes when I’ve lost my way and I find myself pulling my hair out trying to find my way back. Yep, believe it or not, even that is fun. Well, maybe a few days later it’s fun. Writing is also heart-wrenching at times. Bad reviews. Poor sales. Rejection slips. Computer crashes where you lose four chapters and head straight for the scotch before girding your proverbial loins and sitting down to rewrite the damn things all over again. A lot of being a writer hurts. But then one day you get an email from a reader in Casper, Wyoming, and she thanks you for helping her come to grips with the fact that her son has just told her he’s gay. Or you find a letter in the mail from a young man in Altoona, PA, who says your writing inspired him to want to be a writer himself. Or you get a note from a young woman in Brussels who is sick with cancer, and who tells you your book made her laugh for the first time in months. I’ve received those letters. And there’s your answer. That’s why I write. That’s EXACTLY why I write.
Carole: Awesome! Thank you, John, for spending some time with us and answering questions. And thank you, Lisa and TNA readers for stopping by. A preview of Willow Man is available on Amazon.
John Inman grew up on a tiny 60-acre farm in Indiana. His childhood was a happy one. He spent most of it barefoot with a cane pole over his shoulder, fishing and roaming the countryside and dragging home every wild creature he could get his hands on hoping to make it a pet, much to his mother’s horror.
Longing to see the world (what kid doesn’t?), he joined the Navy two minutes after graduating from high school. The Navy carried him all across the Orient before finally landing him in San Diego, California, a city he fell in love with at first sight. He lives there to this day with his husband John (yep, John and John), and an assortment of pets they’ve happened to adopt along the way, (Yep, he’s still doing that too.)
The one great longing that has stayed with John his entire life, from his childhood on the farm, to his years in the Navy, and all the way up to retirement from the working world, was the need he felt to write fiction. And he did. He wrote every chance he got, from elementary school all the way through to Social Security.
John calls this passion of his a wonderful addiction, and he thanks God every day that he suffers from it. Since he can’t think of a happier way to spend his remaining years on this marvelous planet, you can now find John seven days a week, merrily slogging along on his computer, doing what he most dearly loves to do.
Writing. (And there’s usually a pet on his lap while he’s doing it.)
Next time on Genre Talk, Yeyu gives us a fascinating education on Chinese modern fantasy.