Colette Moody Interview

First-time author, Colette Moody, someone who sure knows how to twist the vernacular, talks to us about what the writing life means to her.

KBV: First of all, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

CM: Well, you are certainly welcome. I’m happy to blather on about myself, as most of my friends will attest. I’m sure you’ll have to edit this interview aggressively.

I’m an American living in the South (yet I in no way resemble a character from a Tennessee Williams play…well, other than being gay, that is). I have a fascination with history, vintage films, and politics. I have a tendency to say completely inappropriate things just before the “don’t say it!” synapse in my brain fires [see: aggressive editing, above].

KBV: What is your first memory of writing something, and when did the passion start to grow and you know you wanted to write?

CM: You know, I don’t remember the first time I wrote something, but I do have vivid recollections throughout grade school of writing poems about teachers, that frequently were intercepted and read by the most embarrassing person within a thirty-mile radius. The fact that none of that deterred me should have been a sign that I’d keep writing well past puberty.

KBV: Who would you say were your influences early on?

CM: Actually, I think that I learned more about dialogue and romantic tension from watching films from the 1930s and 1940s than from any specific author. In fact, I’ll skip most things to watch Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Auntie Mame, or To Have and Have Not one more time. In college, I wrote a few mainstream historical romances (because I knew of no gay publishers then), but they were so formulaic and rigid in their rules that ultimately my books were always too unconventional for consideration.

I saved my first personalized rejection letter. It was almost a treat to receive something that didn’t start off with something like, “Dear unworthy submission monkey.”

What I really wanted to do was write a novel where the characters spoke fast and glibly…and of course, where neither of them had a penis…there’s that minor detail. Having me write heterosexual sex scenes was a little like getting a vegan to write a barbeque cookbook. For all I know, semen smells like freshly baked bread and tastes like crème brûlée (but somehow I seriously doubt it.)

KBV: Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

CM: For Original Sin, I chose one of my favorite time periods – the golden age of piracy. It was convenient for me that I had done so much reading about the time period just for fun, because it really minimized my research. I chose another favorite time period for my next book The Seduction of Moxie – the prohibition era of the 1930s. As for the plots, this may sound odd, but they usually are crafted around a tiny kernel that occurs to me out of the blue, and that normally makes me laugh. It’s typically something completely absurd—a situation or conversation that in my mind would make a hilarious story. I then plan out the rest of the plot to try to make the funny part happen organically, and properly showcase its utter inanity.

KBV: What, for you, was the hardest thing about writing this first novel?

CM: Well, I wrote this book primarily because I wanted to see what it would be like if I wasn’t gearing a manuscript toward a score of publisher’s dictums, as well as if it had two female protagonists. Would I like it? Would the freedom of it cause me to lose focus? Would I miss the penis? It turned out that I really enjoyed myself. I liked taking my time with it, and driving it in whatever direction seemed to feel right. Ultimately, submitting the finished product for submission ended up being much more difficult for me than actually writing it. So the waiting to hear back…and probably the editing process, which was far more involved than I imagined.

KBV: I’m really curious to know what made you decide on such a lengthy title: The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin?

CM: My conscious thought with that was that I wanted a title that both conveyed the spirit of the story, as well as one that stood out on the bookshelf as immediately different.

I think it’s also possible that in my zeal to cast off the shackles of mainstream publishers’ freakishly anal-retentive edicts (e.g. “You must have a misunderstanding between your main characters that threatens their relationship by page 120,”) that I went out of my way to break a lot of those rules for no reason beyond that I both wanted to, and I could. So, this title may, in some way, be a big subconscious middle finger to them.

That, and I liked it.

KBV: How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines and breakdown scenes, or do you just leap straight into writing the narrative?

CM: I stumble upon the aforementioned kernel, and I normally let that tumble through my mental spin cycle for a little while. If I decide that I’m really pleased with the idea, I start planning out the details like characters, setting, and backstory in a notebook. I’m hopeless with organized things like outlines, so I tend to just sit down and start writing once I have a feel for who the protagonists are and what I basically want to happen. I write it chronologically, and let the plot just sort of unfold. So I kind of like it when I get stuck, because that means that it shouldn’t be deemed as too predictable, because even I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

KBV: How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

CM: I jot down basics about them, and try to find a name that matches my gut impression of them. A lot of their qualities develop as the story develops, but I start off with a sense about who they are and why.

KBV: Do you talk to your characters at all, and if so, what do they say to you?

CM: I don’t talk to them, but I frequently speak AS them. I like to focus on dialogue, because I think it’s one of a book’s most important components. So many times I act out the scenes as all the characters, just to see how it feels, and what works and what needs revising. In a weird way, that may also help me get a better understanding of their motivation and frame of mind, sort of like an actor getting into character.

KBV: Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

CM: My girlfriend is the only one who reads it as I write it, and I can say honestly that many times when a chapter has ended on a cliffhanger, she has wanted to strike me repeatedly about the face and shoulders. Of course, it was especially frustrating for her when I would tell her that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next and that the delay could be indefinite while I worked it all out. The good news is that she has never snapped and come at me swinging a tube sock full of nickels, and she stills reads my writing as I go, so it must not be too terrible an experience for her.

Obviously from a continuity perspective, I think it’s better to have someone read it from start to finish with minimal interruptions. But it’s also nice to have feedback throughout the process, so if I do something astoundingly stupid, I can turn the ship around before I’ve collided with the iceberg.

KBV: What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? Go on retreats?

CM: I read a lot — nonfiction for research, lesbian fiction to keep up with the market, historical fiction just for fun. A lot of times I like to challenge myself with the “what would I have done differently with this novel?” game, but I find that sometimes my answers are things like “I’d have killed that bitch of a main character off in the first chapter by having her attacked by weasels,” or “instead of stranding them on an island, I’d have had them trapped on a goat cheese farm and made them eat their way out, one pungent glob at a time.” (These clearly, are NOT the thoughts that become the kernels. Instead, these are the thoughts that morph into horrific Fantasia-like nightmares.)

I have not yet attended a workshop or retreat, but I am planning on attending the Women’s Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts this fall with several other Bold Strokes authors, where we should be doing some events. It will be my first, so I can only hope it’s the wild Sapphic extravaganza that I’ve been led to believe.

On a side note, if anyone knows of a GLBT conference that focuses on a particular period of history (I’m imagining perhaps a queer Renaissance fair, or maybe a gay old west town where instead of tumbleweeds blowing, some of the attendants are blowing instead — something like “Doc Holliday’s Wild West Fellatio Festival”), I am SO there! (See: aggressive editing, above.)

KBV: How do you see your work developing in the future?

CM: That’s a really good question. I think I’d like to try my hand at something contemporary, and from time to time I get the itch to write a historical crime thriller. So far, I’ve tended to talk myself out of both — usually under the pretense that I would produce something dry and monotonous. Or there’s the outside chance that I would miss the mark so egregiously that anyone who bought it looking for it to be like my first two books might rebel in rage and start anti-fan websites dedicated to all the ways I have disappointed them and earned their loathing. (Don’t worry; the tranquilizers should kick in soon.)

KBV: What genre do you feel most at ease writing in, if any?

CM: Definitely historical romance, because I have a really good time writing it, and I think the author’s state of mind and level of engagement come through via the writing. I mean, if I’m not enjoying it, how can I expect the reader to?

KBV: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing right now?

CM: Probably sitting in my underwear, drinking a rum rickey and scrawling my caustic manifesto on the inside of a flattened Tampax box. Oh, wait…I’m already doing that.

KBV: What, from your perspective, were some of the most common mistakes you made when starting out in the business?

CM: I think I tried too hard to follow established formulas in an effort to get published by a “big-name” publishing house. And perhaps enduring that has made the publication of Original Sin even sweeter for me. I was finally able to write the novel that I always wanted to write, with no compromises. So even if it’s not a huge commercial success, I’ve been able to accomplish something I’ve wanted for many years, and there’s a great deal of personal satisfaction in that.

KBV: How do you feel about e-publishing and the quality? And would you go that route?

CM: I think I have a couple of impediments to fully embracing e-publishing. As a reader (and an old person), I have too much of a love affair with the printed book. I know books take up space and their production kills millions of oxygen-generating trees, but I just haven’t been able to set aside the solid feel of a book in my hands, the smell of the ink and paper, the impact of exceptional cover art, and the sound of a page turning. I’m not deluded enough to think that eventually, hard copies of books won’t be completely phased out — that like the vinyl LP, the 8-track tape, the betamax, VHS, laser discs, Polaroid instamatic cameras, pagers, and the 8-bit Nintendo, they will become extinct. But like a grandmother who won’t give up writing checks at the grocery store, I cling to them nonetheless. (That being said, my publisher does offer e-book versions of Original Sin. I can certainly see the convenience of the technology, but I can’t help but envision accidentally backing over my e-book reader with my car and having all my books instantly destroyed forever, which trust me, would be a very “me” thing to do.)

As for the quality of e-publishers, I think that as technology advances and communication becomes more immediate and unbridled, (e.g. “I just have to tweet to everyone to tell you what I just found between my bicuspids!”) things become easier to release to the public. Because of this massive influx, we are challenged more and more to separate the wheat from the chaff. I think there are some good e-publishers out there, just like there are some terrible mainstream publishing houses. Fortunately for us, the GLBT community has evolved into one of support and inclusion, so word of mouth is frequently the best way to find quality work of any type (though I’d like the GLBT audience to raise their expectations a little and stop settling for gay-themed books/films/television/music that are clearly mediocre at best. We deserve to have high-caliber entertainment too).

KBV: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about writing? And what, for you, are the worst aspects about it?

CM: I think my favorite moments come during the writing process when I go back to a scene I’ve written earlier, reread it and it makes me laugh out loud. Those are the times when I feel really proud of what I’ve created. Making someone else laugh out loud is even more rewarding.

Perhaps the worst moments are when you get the complete opposite response- no laugh, no visible amusement, just crickets chirping, a raised eyebrow and something unmistakably unimpressed like “Hmph.” Since I rarely get to see people’s reactions, I’ve for the most part, mercifully been spared the humbling experience of trying to explain why I thought something was funny or compelling in the first place. And that’s just something I’ve never been any good at.

Our delighted thanks to Colette for sharing her thoughts with us!

Author Profile:

Colette Moody is a resident of Southeastern Virginia. Her turn-ons are classic movies, witty banter, politics, and women with big, sexy brains. Turn-offs include rainy days, frowns, misogyny, and the blind renouncement of science or human rights. The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin is her first published novel, and her second, The Seduction of Moxie, will be released in September of 2009, also by Bold Strokes Books.

To find out more about Colette, stop by her web site: Colette Moody.
Buy a copy of ORIGINAL SIN.

Alexandra Wolfe

Alexandra is the founder, owner, and publishing editor of the Kissed By Venus web site and magazine.

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