Brandon Witt Q&A : The Imperfection of Swans Pre Release
Kazza: Today I’d like welcome Brandon Witt to On Top Down Under Book Reviews. There are not many authors who I can say I’ve read everything they’ve published, Brandon Witt is an exception, so I’m thrilled to have him join me. It seems like ages, I think it has been, since he was last here. So, welcome to your interrogation Q&A, Brandon.
All my blog Brandon Witt reviews are here and there’s a webcam interview included, for those who are interested.
Brandon: Thank you for having me, Kazza! I always appreciate it! It has been a long time since I’ve been here, about a year and a half, actually. I’m honored that you make room for me on On Top Down Under and that you’ve read all my books. That means so very much to me. And thank you to all of you who have hopped over here to check out the interview! I’m so glad you’re with us!
Kazza: I believe the last year, roughly, has been one of significant change for you. You’ve left your day job teaching, moved house, and also taken up full-time writing, is that right? Not everyone takes a jump into the relative unknown, so what was the impetus for such a big leap for you? When did you say, ‘blow it all, I’m going to have a change and I’m going to give writing my biggest and best shot?’ Disclaimer, you may not have actually said those words, so please fill us in.
Brandon: Well, you might have been in my mind, because those were my exact words, at least pretty much. It had been a huge year, a terrifying year. I have been either a youth treatment counselor or special education teacher for the past fifteen years. I often just shove them together because it was pretty much the same job, working with students with server emotional disabilities–think lots of outbursts, violence, anger, restraints, etc. I loved that job, and I LOVED the kids and my co-workers. However, fifteen years in that world is pretty rare. When we’d go to district meetings, you were considered old school if you’d made it to five. Honestly, my plan was to wait until I was forty (I’m thirty-seven now), write one book a year, and then leave the profession in the hopes that I’d be able to save up enough money to survive. Well, around September or October of 2014, I was in yet another special ed meeting in my school were the district supervisor showed up and laid down more of their dictates. Dictates that came from laws and others simply devised to save money. None of which did the students a bit of good. I did my normal and was arguing, standing up for the kids and the teachers (with the rest of my team–they were amazing), and all the sudden, in my brain, I just went, ‘I’m done. I won’t do this anymore.” I decided in that minute to sell my house and take the leap. I stopped arguing and sat back. On leave the meeting, my friend Charity (who is a main character in the book after this one), looked at me and said, “You’re done, aren’t you?”
And I was. I finished up the school year, taking me to June 2015. Sold my beautiful, high mortgage home in a great neighbourhood, and bought a 745 sq. ft. house in the hood (and I’m not just using that term lightly. I don’t hang out in my yard as there’s frequent enough gun violence and that I’m not conformable there. Though I LOVE having a tiny house! I made a plan with my publisher to write one book every three months. Which sounds like a lot. However, compared to writing and teaching full time, plus my other jobs, it is cake. Plus, it’s my dream. I get to write all day. I treat it like a job, with hours (More hours than teaching), but it’s a job I love with everything I have. It’s terrifying, because the money I have to live on will be gone any day and it just depends on how these next books sell that determine if I get to continue what I’m doing or not. I’ve got my hopes set high!
Kazza: It’s always been incredibly important to me that authors change their work up when they write. You certainly do that. You have UF/paranormal – Men of Myth series, queer fiction – The Shattered Door, anthologies – Kick-Ass and Authors Gone Wild, plus two contemporary romances, Then the Stars Fall and now The Imperfection of Swans. How easy/hard is it for you to mix up what you write?
Brandon: I love to do that. I am just enough of a Gemini that I have too many aspects of my personality to be satisfied with one thing. However, the romance is hard for me, which figures, as it is what I need to focus on right now if I have any hope of surviving financially. Of course, just like my Paranormals, I make them mine. So, its Romance done how Brandon Witt sees Romance. (Scary thought, huh?)
Honestly, though less time consuming, the short stories are the hardest for me, it’s much less intimating to plan a novel than a short story. I think it takes a ton of confidence and talent to be able to pull of a short story well. I’m much more at ease in a novel format.
Kazza: I’ve made comment now in several books how you write women. While your books are “MM,” or queer fiction, your female characters, who are part of the men’s lives in your books, always resonate with me. They feel real. More than that, they feel right. You obviously have had, and continue to have, women who mean a lot to you in your life. I’m also guessing strong women. Some examples are characters like Sonia from the Men of Myth series, Wendy and, posthumously, Shannon from Then the Stars Fall. Then there’s Maudra Phelpman from The Shattered Door – who is one of my all-time favourite characters of any book I’ve read. Which leads me to my next question. I’d love to hear your take on Brandon Witt writing females in gay/ “MM” writing. For example, are they based around/on real women you have known/or know? As a gay man, why do you think you have an affinity in your writing with women?
Brandon: I love that you connect with my women. They are some of my favorite characters, actually. Sonia is, hand’s down, my favorite character in Men of Myth and I’m dying to write her own book one day. Wendy, that always cracks me up. In Stars, people often think I modeled Travis (a burly red-headed guy) off myself. I didn’t. Wendy was born by asking myself what I would be like as a woman, and Wendy was the result. Although, I don’t think I’d be as strong as Wendy is, she’s the woman I’d like to be. And I simply adore that you love Maudra. She was modeled after my mom, at least her loving, blunt nature. I do have so many wonderful, strong, powerful women in my life. I think that makes it easy to write and easy for me to love them in fiction. In fact, it wouldn’t feel genuine or true to life if they weren’t there, or if they were any less than the men. Often, they’re the stronger of my characters, I think. Even the ‘bad’ ones. Like Rose, the abusive mother in The Shattered Door. People hate her, for good reason. And I don’t excuse anything she does, but I get her. I totally understand why she does everything she does. I find her extremely compelling. And honestly, when I read a book with just a bunch of men, I get bored out of my head. I need both. (Says the gay boy who’s a 6 on the Kinsey scale! LOL!) No matter the story line, at least where we are at this point and time in history, women and gay men are still ‘other’ and are second class. I think it makes sense for us to join forces!
Kazza: I’ll just add my two cents worth on this answer. Yes, both are still “other” and “second class” in many ways, and it’s 2016. I’m always advocating the importance for both to be allies, so I see women’s representation in my primary genre (these days) as vital. As much as I hated Rose, and I did, she is also very ‘real’ and powerful and you nailed her character in The Shattered Door. More power to writers who don’t make women caricatures, who actually make women strong and real, whether good or bad, in a genre where they aren’t the main characters.
Kazza: Okay. Multi-part question ☺
You have a book being released on January 18th – The Imperfection of Swans. It’s a really good contemporary romance and somewhat different to the other books I’ve mentioned above. While Then the Stars Fall is a contemporary romance, it’s deeply emotional, not just dealing with a burgeoning romance. There’s also raising children, a small town, (El Dorado, the town of The Shattered Door), and one of the protagonists had been married (to a woman) previously, is bi and fighting his same sex attraction on several fronts. Tell me how it felt writing a contemporary romance where there is a bit more light – there are other sensitive aspects but they don’t dominate the romance – and concentrating on two guys working on a dream they both have, and a growing relationship of two guys both knowing they’re gay?
Brandon: It truly was really, really hard to keep it lighter. It did that for two reasons. One, as previously discussed, I need to write more romance right now. Two, and honestly, I find this the more important reason, given that I was writing about a character with an anxiety and an eating disorder in Swans, I felt the story needed to be told in a lighter way. Unless you have a personal connection to anxiety or an eating disorder, it’s easy to judge the people who do. It’s easy to say they just need to get over it, or look at people with real problems. Especially when that person is white, male, and beautiful. I fear if I dove too deeply into that darkness, it would alienated readers, that he would been as nothing more than a shallow, privileged, pretty boy who only thinks of himself. My hope is that humor and the lightness will actually open people up to see what it might be like for those living in anxiety or dealing with an eating disorder. (I’ll be curious to hear what you think of the next two books, which are equal in romance, but I didn’t feel the same need to lighten their angst in order to keep them relatable.)
In addition, as much as I love coming out stories and as important as I think they are, as a gay man, I want a wide range of literature about gays. We have more stories to us than simply the struggle of coming out. True, for many of us, it effects everything and impacts every single aspect of our lives; however, there are so many other stories and aspects of our lives, I want to write books where accepting your sexuality isn’t the end-all-be-all of gay characters.
Kazza: There’s a story behind the story of The Imperfection of Swans. Kevin is one of the protagonists and in your real life you have a very close friend named Kevin – the cover model and person the character is based around. What inspired you to tell this particular story? Was it ever awkward for you basing a book around a close friend?
Brandon: There is a story. I also have a photography business, and several years ago, I asked Kevin to do some modeling for me. What better way to advertise than to get your gorgeous best friend to do it for you? I loved all the pictures from the shoot, but the one that is on the cover, stayed with me. I would just look at it, for years, and it would scream at me to write its story. And I tired and tried to come up with a different story for this picture, but I couldn’t. Finally, I realized it was just Kevin’s story I was supposed to tell, about his anxiety, eating disorder, and his dream of opening a wedding dress shop. And, yes, boy was it awkward when I finally got started. I’ve never been worried about offending a real person I love with one of my characters I’ve written. Writing sex scenes with him just felt icky and wrong. (And knowing his mom, who I adore, will read it only made it worse.) About halfway through, I was able to finally quit seeing the character as Kevin my friend and seeing it simply as Kevin, the character. However, it was truly amazing to prepare for the book. I spent hours interviewing Kevin. Really getting to know the ins and outs of his anxiety and the eating disorder. I’d thought I’d already understood it. I had no idea. The love and respect I already had for my friend grew exponentially.
Kazza: In The Imperfection of Swans there’s bridal gowns and the business of buying the dresses and setting the right atmosphere to sell them in, as well as cakes, Boston and its brownstones, Wicked, hmm, I suspect the last one was already a well known quantity. How much research went into the book? How much fun was that side of writing?
Brandon: I’ve never done so much research in my life as I did for this book! My boyfriend is a travel nurse and I was getting to the planning stages of this novel when he transferred to Boston. I fell in love with Boston the second I landed. Just gorgeous. The book suddenly moved from Denver to Boston and opened up so many more possibilities for me. I also spent a couple of days in a luxury wedding shop here in Denver. That was eyeopening. In every way. Not to mention the extra research around anxiety and eating disorders beside what Kevin told me. I’ve never written a book about so many things I knew nothing about it. It was initially almost a crippling experience. It’s one thing to include a few details that aren’t in your wheelhouse. It was another to write a book where none of it is. Outside of my love for Wicked and wedding cakes, obviously.
Brandon: I think you’ve covered this well in your other questions. I’ve been worried that people will find out that the book is about an eating disorder and anxiety and run far, far away due to fear of it being overly depressing or tragic. Especially since I’m know for being a bit darker and angsty. However, there is a lot of beauty and humor in this book that I hope makes the rest accessible.
Kazza: As a fairly regular viewer of The Witty Hour – “it’s not really an hour” – I have to ask the following: Where the heck did that come from? And how can people catch up with Judith P Salt, Arty Fry and, now, Iris (that’s going to be interesting), as well as that Brandon Witt fellow?
Brandon: Oh, goodness. The Witty Hour. I love that thing and it fills me with shame as well. Weird how that works. It came about because I was teaching and didn’t have time to write like I wanted. I’m one of those that if I don’t have a at least a three hour block of time to sit down and write, there’s no reason to even begin. I needed something for my creativity to dive into, as well as something that would hopefully help others find my writing. The Witty Hour was born. It also lets me explore parts of myself that I don’t show anywhere else. I tend to be very quite, reserved, and am hesitant about making a fool out of myself (unless I’m in front of a bunch of kids or readers at a conference).
I used Arty to deal with negative reviews, and it came from where celebrities read mean tweets about themselves. Kinda the same thing, except Arty hates Brandon Witt’s writing and loves all the negative reviews he gets. Those negative reviews tend to make me unable to write at times (I know, quit looking at them!), but when I hand them over to Arty, it takes away their power and actually makes me glad for them. For instance, my little Christmas story that came out got no bad reviews (some bad ratings, but no bad reviews). I was so upset! I had such plans for Arty ripping that story to shreds! LOL That said, I’ll be thrilled if Arty never gets any new material.
I think I a lot of people don’t know what to do with The Witty Hour, and simply don’t like it and find it awkward (which is it). However, at this point, though I do hope it helps people discover my books, I really do it for me. It’s a bit of therapy. And enough people have commented about how much they like it, that I know at least there’s 3 or 4 other weirdos out in the world who get my humor. In fact, I had a gentleman contact me several months ago. He said his mother had died and that he was in a dark place. He stumbled on The Witty Hour (he isn’t one of my readers) and said he binged watched them because they made him laugh during that horrid time. I never dreamed something like that would happen, but I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that it did.
My new segment is Iris Glass. She is interviewing other MM Authors. She’s. . . something. . . . Here is the link to her first interview:
Kazza: I suspect 2016 will be a pivotal year for you and your writing. Having said that, what can readers expect from Brandon Witt over the next year? Any books we need to remember the name of?
Brandon: Pivotal is the right word for sure, as well as make it or break it! LOL
And, yes, please, keep a look out for me.
March/April 2016: UNDER A SKY OF ASH comes out. This is honestly one of the books I’m most proud of and have no idea how to explain without ruining. I will say, it has a character in it that is tied for my love of Sonia and Maudra—a drag queen named ManDonna. Dear lord, I love her!
June/July 2016: SON OF MONEY. I really wanted to explore sexuality in this books. And while there are a couple of sex scenes, it’s not erotica. Not that erotica is bad, but that is simply not what this is. I feel like there’s a lot of slut shaming in the gay world and the MM Romance world as well. I wanted to dive into that from a romance perspective. I’m pleased, very pleased with it. (And I think you’ll love Kayla. I’ve never written a woman like her before. She was supposed to be one of the ‘villains’, and I fell so completely in love with her that she became the hero. Actually, it wasn’t me choosing. She [Like ManDonna above] simply had a life of her own and I simply wrote what she told me.)
Oct 2016 (?): The first instalment (of five) of my new series ROCKY MOUNTAIN BOYS. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’m crazy excited about the series based in Estes Park, Colorado. My family moved there after leaving Missouri. (For reference, that’s the same town where the Stanley Hotel is, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining). It’s not a horror series, but there will be a character who gives the ghost tours in the Stanley Hotel.
Kazza: And this is a personal need-to-know, is there any more coming in the Men of Myth world? It’s one of my favourite UF/para series and I’ve been waiting and waiting (so patiently, maybe not) for at least two characters to get their own story. One in particular needs some good times. Not naming names, but, well, the name starts with B.
Brandon: There will be more. I’m DYING for the to be more. However, as mentioned, I’m tyring to survive and eat, so the fantasy books are on hold until I’m stable enough to start writing both. And the story you want is book six. And I want it too!!! However, there are two Men of Myth shorts coming out (well one is under contract, one I’m hoping will be). They are both prequel type stories, but completely stand alones. One takes place in the fairy world, and the other is about unicorns.
The fairy story, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CHRYSALIS, is coming out in the MYTH’S UNTOLD: FAERY anthology from Widle City this spring.
I hope those will help tide you over until I can return to the series!
Kazza: Thank you to Brandon Witt for stopping by and having a chat with me. It’s been fun having him back at On Top Down Under Book Reviews. I hope it isn’t so long between drinks for him and our blog next time. The Imperfection of Swans is released January 18th. It’s a terrific contemporary MM romance. If you’re interested you can pre-order from Dreamspinner Press.
Brandon: Thank you so much, Kazza! I can’t wait to come back. And thank you, again, to all of you who have stopped by to spend some time with us!