AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: DAMON SUEDE
Damon Suede has wandered into JR Bunny land….
Tell us a little about Bad Idea; what inspired you to write it?
Bad Idea is about a reclusive comic book artist and a rowdy makeup designer who fall in love and tackle pop culture in the worst possible way. I started writing the book almost on a whim; two beloved fans had come into the city for dinner and told me they were in training for a zombie run, basically a jogging race in which they would be chased by actors dressed as zombies. Immediately I thought that sounded like a PERFECT rom-com opening: geeky runner falls for hot zombie…and I filed it away for later.
Not long after, I was prepping for GRL 2012 and wanted to read something comedic, so I sat down and whipped out an opening chapter set at the zombie run. I read it in Albuquerque and the response was explosive. Soon as I got home I sat down and wrote Bad Idea. As a thank you I built the two ladies into the book as major characters: Jillian and Rina. The story just poured out of me and wound up exploring the ways fans affect the creative process and the ways that fictional characters impinge on real life…. Comic books have become the mythology of the modern world. They loom large in our imaginations and conceptions of justice and virtue. Those superheroes are vitally important; they may be fictional but they change lives and save people.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
I’m definitely a plotter, though not perhaps in the way you might mean. I come from showbiz in my other life, so outlining is always part of the gig. I get paid for outlines and often cannot put pen to page on a script until a treatment and an outline has been picked over by suits and talent…The only way I get paid is to lay things out in advance. But I also know that projects never follow a set track, no matter how diligent the preparations. Characters have minds of their own. In Bad Idea, I had a major secondary character turn up unannounced in the middle of a scene and change the entire focus of the novel’s happy ending (and claim a sequel besides). Some of the strongest situations and characters come out of those surprises.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
I came from scripting for showbiz, and romance novels were an incredibly liberating change of pace. Romance is the literature of hope. The only thing a romance novel must have is a strong central relationship and a positive ending. For me, romance works best when the protagonists pay a real price for their happy ending…soft and rough, right? At the same time, writing these books lets me splash around in escapist fantasy in ways I never could in other genres.
Writing gay romance only sweetens that because so much LGBT fiction tends to be dour and compromising. When I was a kid I craved some inkling of a happy ending, and that simply wasn’t “serious”: enough for a lot of LGBT literature that was grappling with horrifying injustice. I understand the reason, but when you’re thirteen, you want to believe that you deserve to hold someone’s hand. I just find it so empowering and life-affirming to find ways to wring hope out of hopeless situations.
Tommy Dobsky, who is a minor character in Hot Head and the protagonist of Hard Head, its sequel. He’s so broken and self-destructive that catching him on paper has put me through the wringer. I love him as a character, but he’s such a toxic stew of self-negation and pathology. One of the reasons Hard Head has been so delayed is that Tommy has been so damned difficult to get right. I refuse to soft-pedal him but I’m determined that he gets his happy ending. He’s a radioactive little bugger.
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
Actually, several of the characters in Bad Idea are fictional versions of real fans and friends who inspired me in the past year. Two of my most passionate fans became major characters in the book; Jillian and Rina gave me the original idea for the zombie run and as a thank you I built them into the story. So much of Bad Idea is about fandom and the creative process and the ways that imaginary heroes save the real world… so it became a feature of the story: fan cameos for the folks who had been so supportive and loving. In the end almost all of the minor characters are affectionate shout-outs.
The other thing is that my boyfriend is a complete comic dork who collects superhero artwork passionately and obsessively. A lot of the goofy fanboy details came from going to cons with him and from seeing the way the hardcore fan community in comics actually shape the course of characters over years. And because I’ve written for comics and know the world, I sprinkled in a lot of professional easter-eggs for any comic fans who read Bad Idea.S’funny… like romance fiction, comics tend to be about disasters that lead to happy endings. There are WAY more overlaps between comics and romance than you might expect. They’re also racy and explicit. They also get hammered for being “escapist” and their “smutty” covers. And the community is just as tight and passionate. I loved bringing that material into the world of romance IN a romance… and also celebrating the spectacular insanity of fandom which just keeps on saving the world from itself!
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
Fighting the urge to please people. It’s insanely tempting because I love telling stories and I love giving fans what they want, but in the past three years I’ve discovered that although folks insist that they know what they want a story to be or how they want characters to behave, the best work comes out of me focusing on story first and audience after. The dumb thing is that I’ve learned this lesson over and over in film and theatre but somehow I’m having to learn it again in fiction. Just because people SAY they want a certain outcome or a certain digression doesn’t mean it serves the story.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
I’m an Arab. My complexion is so fair and my features are so Scot-Irish that everyone assumes I’m Celtic to the bone, but actually the family that I grew up with was made up of full-on kibbe-and-hummus middle eastern merchants. My boyfriend says it’s my secret sauce: everyone assumes I’m all whitebread until they hear me negotiating or see me dance. I wear kilts… I’ve lived in the UK… I’m built for misty cold weather, but temperamentally I’m much more like the swarthy side of the family.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Craptastic movies. Epically awful fiascos are my absolute favorite comfort food….and I don’t just mean Hollywood dreck. I love trashy pop musicals, ginormous special FX disasters, movie of the week nonsense, and even “literary” softcore porn dubbed from other languages. I find them so soothing and life-affirming. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of hundreds and hundreds of hideous cinematic disasters and now my friends in the industry all know, so they send me screeners. My boyfriend and I host evenings where I invite my friends over to partake of the tragic magic whenever I can. It feeds my soul and reminds me that life is rich and beautiful.
What TV Show/s are you addicted to?
This is gonna sound awful, but none. My day job is scripting for film/TV, and theatre so I don’t watch television because TV writing in particular screws with voice in a big way because of the way it’s generated. I’ve binge-watched HBO shows, just because my boyfriend and my agent want to keep me up to date on pop culture, but I’ll always pick reading or a film over TV.
Do you have a hobby that you like to try and squeeze in?
Two-stepping! I used to travel to rodeos and hoedowns pretty religiously, but these days it’s gotten harder because of my travel schedule. I’m a country music fan anyway, but dancing is the deal. Any dancing really, but two-stepping isn’t like anything else. That said, I love the rodeo community and still try to hit events when I can.
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
Coffee and a soundtrack.
I mainline seriously strong bean-soakings to get me frisky and then cue up a themed purpose-built soundtrack that captures the vibe of the book. Actually, prepping the soundtrack is often the way I plan a project because it lets me meditate on characters and themes before I start committing myself to pages that may hamper me later.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
See above! Absolutely. I collect movie scores pretty obsessively… so I have a library of thousands and thousands of music cues to comb through when I’m trying to draw a bead on a romantic situation or a particular cast of characters. Whenever I’m kicking off a project I will sit down and assemble a playlist of tracks that evoke the world of the project.
One of the first things I do when I’m considering a project is collage a soundtrack together to learn what I know and what I don’t about the world, the people, the narrative. There’s an in-depth post about the process on my website actually. On each project, that soundtrack does double duty for me: it helps me “inhabit” a book and also gives me a quick way to reenter a project as quickly as possible. When I have to come back for edits or revisions I can pop on the soundtrack and instantly I know where I am and who I’m talking about.
Do you write one book from start to finish or are there multiple works underway at any given time?
I’ve worked both ways. Usually I’m focusing on one main project, but I’ll dip into other things periodically. But I’ve also had periods in which I was under the gun when I’ve worked one in the morning and then changed hats for the afternoon if needs must. Thing is, I have SO much I need to get done that if I’m not working I feel shifty and lazy.
While I was writing Bad Idea, I realized that they heroes were collaborating on a comic book about a sex demon called Scratch and I wanted to READ the comic book to see what they were cooking up. I ended up writing the comic book as a separate paranormal novella called Horn Gate. Then of course, because I’d let them write their “very graphic novel” those details became part of the plot of Bad Idea…so the contemporary novel produced a paranormal novella novella which was separate but shared themes and resonances. LOL Juicy in two directions.
Where were you when you got your first contract? What was the book and who did you tell first?
My first book contract I was sitting at my desk. It was shocking because I’d only submitted the manuscript a couple days before and I was expecting to wait for months to hear a confirmation, even. The book was Hot Head. My publisher had literally gotten it and read it in a single sitting and immediately drafted an offer. I hadn’t used my agent because they didn’t handle romance fiction…shocked the hell out of me.
Right away, I called my boyfriend. At first he thought I was joking with him because it had only been about 60 hours since I hit SEND on a slushpile email. He’s been through script submission processes for years, so he had given me this whole pep talk about not being anxious and staying positive because we didn’t know what the romance market was like. I had to forward the contract to convince him I wasn’t playing an elaborate practical joke. Then we celebrated a lot.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
Ten or eleven, probably. I read about 1200 words a minute so as a child I was pretty much a woodchipper when it came to finding titles. Genre topicality or suitability didn’t matter. I tore through my entire school library and my family’s books out of Tasmanian Devil desperation…so somewhere in there a romance got sucked into the pile. My mom read romances now and then, so someone around ten or eleven I picked up a couple of the early-80s bodice rippers.
Do you have an all-time favorite romance book (not written by you J)?
Pride and Prejudice. For reals. I reread it a couple times a year and whenever I’m stuck on a project, or frustrated with business, or even want a kick in the butt artistically, I go back to it. The characters! The comedy! The wisdom! The economy! Some of the greatest words ever put together by a human mind and it’s all in the service of a wildly romantic happily ever after that is unmatched. Austen’s work just satisfies and sustains me on levels I cannot describe.
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs what is it?
My non-writing job is still writing. LOL I do still script for film and theatre but much less than I used to. Writing romance has been so liberating and inspiring that little by little I’ve pulled away from that side of the business.
Do you have a favorite movie you have seen in the last few months and an all-time favorite?
Last few months of releases, not really. Viewing-wise, I just rewatched The Spiral Staircase from 1945 and was just blown away by how sexy and terrifying it is. As for all time, I have a lot of favorites, but A Very Long Engagement is up near the top. Absolutely one of the most heartbreaking, romantic films on the planet. Jenuet is hands-down my favorite director.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
Up next is the sequel to Horn Gate, which continues the sex demon comic “written” by the characters of Bad Idea. As I said above, Bad Idea was a contemporary about a comic artist creating a book, I wanted to show the (paranormal) result, and that became Horn Gate. So now I’m finishing the next installment of Scratch’s adventures. After that I’m got a gritty bluecollar contemporary and the sequel to Bad Idea. And Hard Head… I keep chipping away at it, and it’ll be done sometime soon I hope. Busy year ahead.
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
Heidi Cullinan and I have already started kicking around ideas for a series. And actually, Tere Michaels as well on a different project. I love and respect both of them so much… and my process/voice/bent is pretty compatible with theirs. I’m looking forward to those two projects when we can find the time.
How did you hear about the “bunnies” at Joyfully Reviewed?
Joy and I have been running into each other at genre cons for a while during various shenanigans, but I think we really bonded for the first time during the epic Cinema Craptastique at RT2013.
Where can readers find you?
And for the silly side – what is your favorite type of ice cream?
Peppered chocolate. There’s a place here in the city that does icecream by hand and they do one with real chocolate and cayenne which I could eat for every meal for the rest of my life. Second place would be coconut from the same joint, but the peppered chocolate is a religious experience.
Ranger or Morell?
Morelli, no question. Loyal, stubborn, scarred? Hell yeah. I love a man who can keep taking bloody blows and remain standing, and there’s something about his dogged affection and protectiveness that just butters my biscuit.