Welcome to another edition of Sexy Saturday! Today’s sexy guest is Christopher Koehler!
Christopher Koehler learned to read late (or so his teachers thought) but never looked back. It was not, however, until he was nearly done with grad school in the history of science that he realized that he needed to spend his life writing and not on the publish-or-perish treadmill. At risk of being thought frivolous, he found that academic writing sucked all the fun out of putting pen to paper.
Christopher is also something of a hothouse flower. Inside of almost unreal conditions he thrives to set the results of his imagination free, and for most of his life he has been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who encouraged both that tendency and the writing. Chief among them is his long-suffering husband of twenty-two years and counting.
When it comes to writing, Christopher follows Anne Lamott’s advice: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” So while he writes fiction, at times he ruthlessly mines his past for character traits and situations. Reality is far stranger than fiction.
Christopher loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it is in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
Writing is his passion and his life, but when Christopher is not doing that, he’s an at-home dad and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and other ways people behave badly.
His most recent title is Settling the Score, book four of the CalPac Crew series, available at Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.
And now for the Quickie Questions:
1) What was your first experience with erotica / erotic romance?
I can’t remember what combination of searches and purchases led Amazon to suggest Urban and LaRoux’s Caught Running and Langley’s The Tin Star, but those were the first two I read. I’d never really read romances novels before, let alone erotic romances, and the fact that they were m/m? So much goodness. The fact that this genre featured stories about men hooked me from the beginning.
2) Describe your journey from reading to writing to publication.
I’ve always been a writer of some kind or other, so to me it seemed quite natural to set aside the fantasy I’d been working on to take up m/m romance. After reading enough of m/m romances, I knew I could write them. I also recognized in romances something that had been missing on my writing.
As for publication, I’ve always viewed writing as a business and publication as the end goal. Sure, I write because I have to and because it nourishes something deep within me, but I also write with an eye toward seeing my writing in print. I stopped posting essays and various other ephemera on certain blogs, for example, because I decided to put my effort into paying work. Why would I want to give my writing away when I’m trying to make a living off of it?
3) What scene or book was the biggest challenge to write?
I had thought that sex scenes would be the most difficult for me to write, but while they can be difficult to make realistic and believable, writing them turned out not to be much of an issue. No, what presented the biggest problem was the first CalPac book, Rocking the Boat, and my WIP, Poz. I found RTB difficult because I had never written a romance novel before and it required me to depict emotions, the lack of which had been the biggest criticism of my writing until that point. Poz frightens me because it’s a departure from what has worked up until now. It’s written in the first person and that’s just not something I’ve done until now.
4) Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring writers of erotica / erotic romance?
Never ever refer to an ass as taut globes of flesh or a cock as a purple-helmed warrior of love. I’ve seen both and if you can’t call a cock a cock, you need to get out of this genre now.
Readers in this genre are incredibly loyal. Make friends with them. It’s worth it.
The rest is general to writing, but they drive me crazy when I run across them, so I’m going to climb up on my soapbox and start preaching.
Make sure your dialogue sounds like people talking. Speech is incredibly casual in all but the most formal of situations, so that means contractions, slang, all of it. If your characters’ speech lacks those features, it will sound false. I’ve read too much that doesn’t sound natural, if that makes sense. Read it aloud. Most computers have a text to speech function, so have your computer read it to you. My publisher’s editor in chief begs her writers to do this before submitting.
Make sure a word or phrase means what you think it means. Malapropisms make you look absurd, and you can’t count on editors to catch them, especially with the boom in self-publishing. For example, there is no such thing as a rod iron fence. It’s wrought iron. If you’re not sure, look it up. The Internet is a wonderful tool.
Show your work to others before you submit it, and your best friend or immediate family doesn’t count. Ideally, these people will give you honest, but not destructive, feedback. Constructive criticism makes your writing better. You’ll also need a thick skin. If you cannot handle criticism of your work, writing is not the business for you. It hurts, I know, but it’s necessary.
Make sure the people you show it to actually know something about English grammar and usage, too. The last thing you need is some lackwit validating your mistakes. That said, we all make mistakes. I used to work as editor and I still make colossal blunders because I habituate to my errors. We all do. According to my husband I specialize in dropped words. The point is, we stop seeing our mistakes, but make sure whoever edits your work knows what s/he’s doing.
Some of us are plotters and some of us fly by the seats of our pants when writing. Find out which you are early. Neither one is better than the other, but writing’s easier when you’re not fighting against yourself.
Some say it was Hemmingway, some say it was Harlan Ellison, but some writer said to throw out your first million words. When I first heard that it horrified me. Whoever it was, he was right.
Find your voice. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s. This is called pastiche, and if I wanted to read Hemmingway (which I don’t) I’d read Hemmingway. I want to see what you have to offer.
You don’t need a background in English or an MFA in creative writing. My background is in history, and we all know how deadly dull academic history can be…. You only need to be able to tell a story.
Can you tell I have strong opinions on this subject?
5) Tell us a bit about your latest release.
I thought you’d never ask. Poz is my first foray into young adult. At least, that’s how I wrote it, and it’s intended to be a bridge to a rebooted CalPac Crew series with all new characters and situations. One of the characters in this new CalPac series told me quite loudly that he’s poz. Since CalPac tells the stories of collegiate rowers, this suggests that he contracted HIV in high school. Given that the messages of safer sex and negotiated risk that my generation (Gen X) developed are falling on deaf ears with the millennials, it’s not such a stretch to imagine, unfortunately.
Poz tells the story of Remy Babcock, a closeted high school rower who makes some choices the summer before his senior year of high school that alter the course of his life, learning about his needs and desires along the way, along with those of his eventual boyfriend, Mikey. I learned along the way that I want to see a lot more of Remy and Mikey, so while I had planned to write one more book about Remy, there may be several more. We shall see.
I just received feedback from my beta readers a week or so ago, and hope to submit it to Dreamspinner by the end of the month.
Woohoo! Sounds like a great release — I love the CalPac series!
And that has got to be some of the most interesting (and helpful) writing advice I’ve come across — thanks for that!
Thanks for stopping by, Christopher!