Devon McCormack: Cindi and Kazza – Hideous Interview
Cindi and I both interview Devon McCormack about a book he wrote which had just come out at the time – Hideous. But Devon went globetrotting not long after – some people are so lucky – and I (Kazza) was unwell, so we postponed this interview. Today we would like to run the interview; because Cindi and I enjoyed it so much and we thought that the answers Devon gave were really good. So, we re-welcome author Devon McCormack, YA/NA and adult author, who has books through Harmony Ink/DSP Press and Wilde City Press. Both of us have read Hideous, Kazza’s review here and Cindi’s review here – not something we are always able to do. And because we also both read Clipped – Kazza’s review here and Cindi’s review here – we thought it fitting that we interview Devon together.
Cindi: – My love for Luke was made pretty obvious in my review of Hideous. He lost an eye and a hand during the attack that cost him his family. I found myself more than a little teary while reading his story. What would you like to tell us about Luke and what inspired you to write such a broken (his word, not mine) character?
Devon: – A lot of books have these hot, perfect, whole bodies on covers and in descriptions. No one’s a stranger to the ideal they represent. We see it all the time in magazines and on posters. We see it when we login to Facebook, Pinterest, or Tumblr. And while it can be pleasing to the eye, it can’t help but send the message, “If you’re not this, then where is your value?” I decided that I wanted to create a character that was an affront to this image. I wanted to create a character who couldn’t be physically whole—who couldn’t take a magic potion or have some mystical experience that gave him a flawless, ideal body. He had to face the challenges of being something that people fear becoming themselves—something unwanted, something undesirable.
“The Handless Maiden” is one of the best fairy tales out there. The princess is the perfect example of a character that doesn’t fit into the stereotypical ideal body that our culture reveres. I’ve always felt the reason she isn’t portrayed in movies or TV specials is because people don’t want to look at a handless girl. While I was considering writing a story about a guy that didn’t fit into the mainstream ideal of beauty, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to take ‘The Handless Maiden’ and bring it into a modern setting with a gay main character?” However, I felt like my main character shouldn’t just be missing his hands. That didn’t seem like enough. He needed to be missing an eye. Eyes and hands are things that most of us take for granted. We assume that because we are human, that’s just something we get to have. So I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to see what happened when I took one of each away from a character. Giving him a hand back was really just a way of compensating for taking away the eye.
Of course, the physical deformities were just the beginning. Our physical wounds can only hold us back so much. The emotional wounds are truly crippling, and those are the things that really disable Luke. When he sees the injuries, he’s not just reminded of how he looks. He’s reminded of the trauma of his past, the one that keeps him submissive to the cruel world. And he needs to be broken like this, because as he overcomes that, he can inspire others to overcome their difficulties. Or at least, I hope he can.
Cindi: – The language you used in Hideous for the characters is not the norm in most YA books. You wrote the teens as real teens, cursing, sex talk and all, which I found quite refreshing as a parent who actually raised three teenage boys. Why was that important to you?
Devon: – I get annoyed when I read YA books and see unrealistic representations of teenagers. I understand why authors write them like that. There are issues about age appropriateness and marketability that come into play, and I don’t fault authors for choosing to make their material more palatable for a mainstream audience. But with this particular idea, considering the dark nature of the material, I couldn’t justify cleaning it up too much. With the first draft of any manuscript, I let the characters speak as they speak to me. In later drafts, if I feel they need to be tamed for the audience, I do that then. The language and sexual references have been censored somewhat from that first draft, but I couldn’t bring myself to eliminate them completely. What teen can relate to a character that doesn’t think and speak like they do? And that’s my goal when I write. No matter how absurd the concept may be, I want the characters to feel real. I want people to read the story and be able to see themselves in them. And if the character isn’t real, I think it’s more difficult for people to do that. Although, I would like to point out that plenty of great authors have been able to achieve this without cursing or talking about sex. It was just my preference to present it this way.
Cindi: – Then there’s Zack, another character I adored. Not a lot is detailed about him in the book, but there is enough said to draw the readers in without giving too much away. Will we be privy to his back story and thoughts and emotions in a future book as we were with Luke’s in Hideous?
Devon:- Future books? I don’t know what you’re talking about. 😉 Yes. I have a sequel outlined, and you learn more about Zack in it. For those who haven’t read the book yet, Zack is rough around the edges. He’s run away from the government because he doesn’t want to live his life as a slave, which is how the main character, Luke, lives. Instead, he leads an underground operation, helping other curseds who’ve run away from the system. But to make this work, he has to get his hands dirty. He can’t be innocent, because society won’t let him be. That doesn’t make him a bad person, though, and through the book we see the difference between what is legal and what is right.
Zack is one of my favorite love interests, and Cindi, I’m sure you can recognize one of the qualities I find most charming about him: he listens. For me, that’s the most romantic thing in the world. I don’t want a boyfriend that gives me roses and chocolates. Those are tropes. Any stock boyfriend could give me those. I want a guy who listens and shows me through his actions that he knows what really gets me going. Early in my relationship with my boyfriend, I mentioned a book I wanted. I wasn’t mentioning it so that he could get it for me. I was having a hard time tracking it down, and the versions I found online weren’t the ones I wanted. For a while, I was obsessed with this book, and eventually, because I had trouble finding it, I just gave up. When Christmas came around, I opened my boyfriend’s present, and there was the book I’d been looking for. He was so insecure about it. He asked, “Is that the one you wanted? I wasn’t sure. I can return it if it isn’t.” But it was exactly what I wanted. I don’t even think he realizes that that was one of the sweetest things he’s ever done for me. I hope he doesn’t read this and get a big head.
I think something we all want—at least something I want—is to be heard. To know that someone is listening because they want to listen. That’s what Zack is all about. Throughout Luke’s life, no one has considered him an equal citizen, let alone someone worth listening to. Even other curseds are largely just dumping their own baggage on him. Zack is one of the only characters that listens to Luke, and it’s like a breath of fresh air.
Cindi: – In one particular part of Hideous there is a scene that turned me into a teary mess – the dance. I am a total sap for those types of scenes and that one really got to me. There is a lot in the story about Luke’s sadness over not being able to do normal teenage things, with one being able to go to a high school dance. Not only did you make it one of the sweetest, most emotional scenes I’ve ever read, but you made Luke feel beautiful, after he had long thought himself as hideous. What would you like to tell us about that particular scene, without giving away spoilers?
Devon: – If it had not been for this scene, I wouldn’t have written the rest of the novel. When I first start a book, there are five or six very vivid scenes that help me in my initial outline. I usually just sit at my laptop and play them over and over again in my head, asking myself, “How did we get to this point? Why are the characters acting this way? Where do they go from here? How is this connected to the other scenes?” It’s how I brainstorm. Hideous was a darker concept than I’d previously written. There are a lot of twisted backstories to the characters, and I was nervous about allowing myself to live those traumas. At the same time, I knew that the reason the scene you mention was so beautiful was because it was such a wonderful release from the cruelty of Luke’s world. For a moment—just a moment—all the pain and heartache that Luke has experienced evaporates. I wanted to take the audience on that ride. I wanted to take them to the darkness because I knew the release would be worth it.
Kazza: – I Second Cindi on that. It is a beautiful scene.
Cindi: – Hideous is a bit on the dark side, another thing I found refreshing for a YA book. You didn’t shy away from the violence and parts are quite gruesome. As a huge horror reader, I was all over it. What would you say made you take the story in such a dark and violent direction in some places?
Devon: – Like with the cursing, the scenes just sort of unfolded that way. I didn’t plan to write them as gruesome of violent. I had to stand back and let the characters tell me their stories, because if I’d had my own way, I would have censored every one of them. Not for the audience, but for myself. There were several scenes where I had to stop before I wrote them and mentally prepare myself for the journey I was about to take. It always felt like I was stepping into a nightmare, and though I’m not a particularly superstitious person, I do worry about not being able to let go of emotions that stir up during the creation of chapters like those.
The most difficult piece for me was Luke’s backstory. There was something very haunting about it…something that I couldn’t quite shake. Aside from the assault by his demon-possessed father, there’s one scene where he reflects on being beaten by several boys at a school he used to work at. While it’s happening, he glances up at a window on the second story and sees a teacher just watching him get the crap beat out of him. Editing that scene was always the hardest. Sometimes, I would have to skip it and come back to it. It’s not that it’s the cruellest or the most graphic scene. I think it’s that, in the other flashbacks, it’s usually a selfish demon committing cruel acts because that’s part of its existence. It’s not really capable of having compassion for humans. When the humans are cruel to each other, they have the capacity to show compassion and empathy, and it’s frightening when they don’t. I’m still a little nervous about writing the sequel to Hideous. I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready to handle it.
Kazza: – Cindi and I both love the cover for Hideous, it is very Luke. Tell us about the process to get that beautiful cover for Hideous.
Devon: – I love Luke’s story, and I wasn’t sure how anyone could do the cover justice. When Harmony Ink Press sent me the cover art request form, I didn’t know how to explain what I wanted. I wasn’t sure what a good cover for it would be. Usually, I have an idea in my head of what my “perfect cover” would look like, but with Hideous, I had nothing. I mentioned that I would have liked to have a boy with a flesh-colored eye patch. That was the most important thing, but I was open to whatever. I was thrilled when Harmony Ink Press commissioned L.C. Chase for my cover. I’m already a fan of her work, and when she sent me her mock-ups, I could tell which one she was leaning toward, and it was the one I loved, too.
Kazza: – I think one of the most important components for me reading Hideous is that there are not a lot of YA/NA books written by young gay men. I believe you have written a book that will resonate with teenage/younger gay guys. Josh – an avid reader of YA/NA LGBT books and a young gay male himself – made mention of how that appealed to him in his review of Hideous. How important was it for you when writing Hideous that you could write a book that engaged gay youth, like Josh, and potentially give them characters to identify with?
Devon: – This was the most important thing to me when I wrote Hideous. When I was a teenager, I never had gay heroes that I could look to and see myself in. Gay characters in media, if they were represented at all, were side characters and comic relief. They made me feel like identifying as gay meant I had to serve this marginal role in society. My life wouldn’t be important…or at least, not as important as a heterosexual’s life. I could never be a leading man or a superhero. I was just some unimportant other. Fortunately, that’s changing very quickly. I’m relieved to see all the gay characters that are appearing in mainstream movies, TV shows, and books.
Largely, I believe the reason that my generation and those before mine aren’t as active in seeking out gay lit is because they aren’t expecting to find it. But I think that gay teens today are more likely to seek out characters that they can identify with, and they actually have access to those characters now. I hope those teenagers are able to find a piece of themselves in Luke. With Hideous, I hoped to capture the sort of loneliness that I felt as a gay teenager. I also hoped to capture the resigned apathy that so many of us feel when we choose not to express who we really are, but rather, fear it and hide it as society encourages us to. It’s very tempting to be complacent and just go with what the majority wants, but if a gay man wants to be happy, if he wants to be free of the inner demons that plague him, he must find the strength within to stand up to the system, in whatever way he can.
Kazza: – Have here been any truly influential books that you read when younger that made you feel that you could identify with the characters? Any that drew you towards writing, yourself?
Devon: – I lived and breathed S.E. Hinton when I was in middle school. Tex was the character that, for some reason, I was really drawn to. I don’t really know why, but I remember being obsessed with that book. I feel that Hinton has a voice that is easy for teenagers to relate to. It feels very authentic, and despite her delving into situations that most of us have no experience with, it’s easy to relate to the issues that her characters face on in their fictional day-to-day lives. She also deals a lot with loner characters, and I think that’s something we can all relate to, because at the end of the day, we’re all on our own in this. We have friends, families, and lovers, but while those people can support us as we struggle with our own inner demons, they can’t do it for us.
Kazza: – I believe that you may be writing another book as part of Harmony Ink. Tell us a bit about any upcoming YA or NA books that Devon McCormack may have in the pipeline
Devon: I have two novels slated for October of this year. The first is a New Adult book, The Pining of Kevin Harding, which will be released by Wilde City Press. In the novel, vampires have a biological impulse to protect their masters. It’s called “the pining.” New vamps can resist it, but the longer they’re with their master, the stronger it becomes until eventually they are totally submissive. Kevin Harding is a new vamp. He hates his master for prying him from his family and his life. He’s able to resist more than most newbies, but the pining prevents him from being able to truly break free from his master’s grip. One night, while he’s hunting, he’s captured by vampire hunters. Rather than be killed, he agrees to lead them back to his lair and help them kill his master. But it’s not that easy because while a part of him wants his master dead, another part desperately wants to keep him alive. It’s a constant battle between these two parts of his psyche. He also ends up falling in love with one of the vampire hunters, which complicates things even further.
The second October release is a Young Adult novel called When Ryan Came Back, which will be released by Harmony Ink Press. Steven is a senior in high school. He’s crushed on his friend Ryan since he was in elementary school, but one day, Ryan is found dead. It’s declared a suicide, but when Steven returns home from the funeral, he finds an ethereal Ryan standing in his room. Ryan tells him that he didn’t kill himself and that he believes his death is linked to a story he was working on for his blog. Steven agrees to help him find out how he died, but as the mystery unfolds, so does Ryan’s secret life—a life filled with sex with guys and antidepressants. Gradually, Steven starts to believe that Ryan’s death really was a suicide and works to help him face this dark truth.
Kazza: – You have written an erotica paranormal, Clipped, and now a YA/NA book, Hideous. I know paranormal is a running theme with both of these books, but is there a difference in the process between erotic writing and YA/NA? Were you more apprehensive about one over the other?
Devon: – There’s a major difference between what is being described, but I use the same process to write it down. With Clipped, the world and characters are larger-than-life in a sort of playful, tongue-and-cheek way. The characters are inhumanly hypersexual, so a lot of the writing was about describing these epic immortal hormone rampages. Hideous is rooted in a darker-than-life world with pretty normal teen characters (aside from some physical issues on the main character’s part). As Cindi mentioned earlier, the characters talk and think about sex the way I believe an actual teenager would. In both cases, it was just about being honest to these two very different types of worlds. Hideous doesn’t have the same playful, comedic quality that Clipped does. And though there are dark elements in Clipped, they aren’t handled as seriously as they are in Hideous.
Kazza: – Now you have shown versatility with two different books, it is interesting to know where you will go next and what things are upcoming for Devon McCormack. Whatworks in progress do you have planned that we can share with our fellow readers on On Top Down Under?
Devon: – I’m, of course, working on the sequel to Clipped, which is going to be even crazier than the first book. There’s more blood, more gore, more rough sex, and more cock-o-saurus (aka Treycore). The book follows two journeys: Treycore’s descent into Hell to save Kid, and Maggie’s and Kinzer’s hunt for the Christ. It also features some new characters that I’m really excited about unleashing. They take the story to a whole new level. Treycore’s descent into Hell will also reveal a lot more about the origins of this universe.
This book will come after I finish my latest cyberpunk New Adult novel. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s nearly complete, and I’ll be sharing more details once I get the last page written, which will be in another week or so.
Devon: – Thanks for having me!
On the 13th-16th of October we will be running a giveaway for one of Devon’s latest e-books. Come join us then.