Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Getting to Know - Damon Suede - The Author behind Hot Head

 I had the pleasure of interviewing Damon Suede about Hot Head not too long ago. This time I want to get to know the man behind the book and hope to ask a few questions that have never been asked. I think I can manage! :)
The response to Hot Head has been insane. It shot to number one, people were scrambling to get their hands on it and the reviews and ratings are off the charts. Most first time authors to a genre struggle to get their name out there. Christ man, Hot Head has nearly 600 ratings on Goodreads, Who the hell did you bl…. Just kidding ~wink~  What do you attribute your success to?
LOL It was crazy. It IS crazy! Three months since it came out and it’s still number 1 in Gay Romance at Amazon. It spent two months at number one in every available category. And the Bravo promotion from Andy Cohen came out of all that, so it’s cumulative. I am grateful beyond belief for the way people have embraced Griff and Dante and their world.

As much as you can ever pinpoint such things, I attribute the book’s success (and tenacity) to a bunch of factors. For one thing, firefighters are a beloved subgenre within M/M and the gorgeous Anne Cain cover foregrounded the rugged sexiness of the main characters. Likewise, almost every person who has reviewed the book has talked about the authenticity of Hot Head’s world and the raw “manliness” of the heroes; those things count for a lot in the word of mouth that drives the genre. Part of it too is the fact that I broke a couple genre rules that (while angering a couple folks) made the book stand out in a crowded field. And the book crosses so many lines in terms of audience; I’ve gotten fan mail from a grandmother in Sri Lanka and a career firefighter in North Dakota. The book wanted to be out in the world and my job was to clear the path, not to force it on anyone.

Here’s the funny thing: I don’t have a blog, I don’t tweet, and I don’t host a yahoo group. Aside from one chat with Dreamspinner and one group event at Love Romance, I didn’t do any of the things you’re supposed to do to publicize a book. I broke most of the “rules” about promoting a romance novel which seems to have harmed it not at all. Hot Head took on a life of its own very rapidly and dominated every list on its own. I did “promote” the book, but I never shilled it or urged it on people. I like to think that good work speaks for itself, and bad work ditto. I hope that my writing deserved some of the kind words directed at it. Mainly I feel deep gratitude that a perfect storm of story, market, professional experience, and passionate word of mouth gave me such an amazing launch in the genre.

Firefighters have read HOT HEAD?
Yeah! Shocked the hell out of me and put the biggest smiles on my face all summer. You should hear them! I’ve had so many men and women who work in fire departments reach out since the book released. Unbelievably moving stuff, these letters. A lot of first responders wrote asking if I was a firefighter commenting on how “right” the book’s firefighting details are and how closely I caught the FDNY vibe in particular. Now I love that on a purely technical level, but the real killers are the emotional confessions… Those I never thought of expecting, but now I know that career firemen read Hot Head very differently than the average fan.

The first was a long letter from Alaska from a fireman who’s closeted at work but involved in a loving long term relationship with a man in a nearby town. His praise of the book tore me up, because I had been so anxious about accuracy with the FDNY and 9/11 material. He wrote me after he’d read Hot Head for the fourth time and he wrote to say that he felt like Griff and Dante were a beacon for him of what was possible, and of how it felt to be gay and a firefighter. I’m getting weepy just typing that. And I’m so thankful he contacted me.

Then as the weeks went by, more firefighters got in touch with comments and anecdotes and compliments… A couple in Virginia (firefighter and park ranger) wanted a book signed for a friend who had been bashed. I got a thank you from a lesbian paramedic who was given a copy by her estranged sister (?!) as a kind of olive branch. And a gushy, horny letter of congratulations arrived from an oil rig in the China Sea! Crazy. Wonderful. From emails, I get the sense that the book is now getting recommended and passed around by men and women in service. Hey, maybe that’s helping it maintain that crazy ranking on Amazon. LOL

Thing is, Griff and Dante resonate deeply with people who do these jobs and THAT is better than anything, THAT is enough to make me want to write gay romance for the rest of Time. I’m so grateful every time someone reaches out that way… People live these unbelievable lives of heroism and sacrifice but real danger and fear still hounds them. They connect to the plot and the characters so differently. They dig the sexiness and all, but for them it’s a story about integrity and redemption and honor and hope in the fire service. I feel like that is what romance can and should be… and one way M/M really does change the world a mind at a time.

You live most of the time in NYC. Has 9/11 changed your views of the city? Does the fear, you must have felt that day, linger and has it changed how you behave while there?

My family still has a ranch in Texas, but New York really is home to me even when I’m gone for work or whatever.  9/11 didn’t make me afraid, it made me angry: at middlemen, at politicians, at fundamentalists of all breeds and creeds. And it made me proud of New Yorkers as a tribe…

The thing to know about New York is that though it has a rep for being harsh and unfriendly, it is one of the most warm, engaging cities on the planet. It’s a patchwork of so many communities and cultures that people who live here HAVE to interact hospitably with each other. Hell, most of the US of A immigrated through this port! New Yorkers adapt and embrace. In Texas, people will smile in your face while banging your wife behind the bar and emptying your accounts into the Grand Cayman. New Yorkers will talk to anyone, help anyone, feed anyone.

So for me the attacks made me more conscious of what is precious and singular about the City. We knew exactly what mattered when it mattered most. By targeting the Towers those murderous morons just drew a big sparkly circle around all the things that make New York the greatest city on earth.  That they drew it in gore and grief made me feel not cowed, but proud. :) The Towers fell, but we stood together.

One response many had to 9/11 was to look at their own mortality.  You must live like your dying over the next month and money is no object, what will you do?

What I’m doing right now. I live my life that way every day. I always have. I was raised by a mother who was terminally ill, so my whole life I was told, “You could drop dead!” or “Make today count!” or “Go out and do something excellent!” I have always lived out loud, like the world is burning down around me every day of my life. A childhood spent around terminal illness changes how you perceive laziness and inattention. Nothing gets taken for granted: not breathing, not walking. It changes how you approach work as well, and the slack we cut ourselves. So if I had a month and money was no object, I’d be working and playing and dreaming just as hard as I do every moment of every minute of every day. I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.

What one word would you use to describe you and why?

My whole life proceeds from a core of passion and aggression. I’m deeply choleric in the original medieval sense. I am ruthless and relentless about pretty much everything. I can’t imagine sitting around or waiting for other people to be brave enough to do something. I’m a born rabble-rouser and I thrive on confrontation. My energy tends to be volcanic which can be overwhelming for people who tiptoe through life. Folks have always had strong reactions to me and over the decades I’ve learned how to interact more mindfully with timid souls, but I am and will always be the most intense person in 99% of the rooms I occupy.  

Laziness and inattention make me nuts. Spare me the beige-itarians and slopniks who want to reduce the world to commonplaces, half-assery, and clichés. Ugh. Gag. How can you waste the whole world so casually? All that possibility waiting for us to discover it. When I was younger (and crazier), the occasional muggle would get irritated with me moving decisively and accomplishing things and sneer, “Where’s the fire?” and I’d reply, “HERE! Right here. Are you blind? Life is the fire! It’s raging all around you; it’s incinerating us.” This is probably how and why I ended up in NYC. :) In Texas a couple people wanted to have me exorcized, but my family knew exactly who and what I needed to be. I’ve mellowed since then, but I’m still known to bellow at my students:  “Go be excellent. You could be bones in a hole tomorrow.” Time and love are the most precious things so we mustn’t waste them or we are lazy fools. The dark is always coming so we need to burn bright and dream hard.

Now tell us what one word your sweetie would use to describe you and why?
I asked him. :)  He says, “Enthusiastic.” I get insanely worked up about everything that matters to me, and I don’t participate in anything that doesn’t matter to me. I love to coax ideas out of people and bring groups together. Enthusiasm for my life drives me like the Devil. LOL I think he’s probably being a little forgiving of my nuttier moments, but enthusiasm is very kind way to describe my energy level. I just read this answer to him and he added, “Or thorough... Thorough would work.” Which is probably the same thing. LOLOL

Yeah, yeah I know the questions aren’t so different yet, but it’s harder than I thought. How about this one. 

Damon Suede wants nothing more than to appear on HotHead.com, a gay-porn website. He has from 8am Saturday morning until Midnight to give the producers an answer. You have all day, how do you go about persuading your reluctant partner to do it?

Oof! Tough one. It would essentially be impossible, and simultaneously easy. He’s in law enforcement and would lose his job without question, a job that he loves. Moreover, while I’m definitely an exhibitionist he isn’t at all, and I love that about him. His handsome shyness is deeply, irretrievably sexy to me. Still if there was a gun to my head and I HAD to convince him I’d have to ask him candidly and directly, no wheedling and no bargaining. Trying to “persuade” him would only annoy him, and if it was that important to me, important enough that I would ask him knowing everything I know about him… he would simply do it.

It’s midnight and Mr. HotHead calls and wants an answer, how successful were your powers of persuasion? No really would he do it?
If I needed it he would do it in a heartbeat. If I just wanted to do it and couldn’t explain the reasons in a way that outbalanced the risks, no chance! LOL Most likely I’d wind up having to head over and shoot a clip with Dante. :)

Now the cover for Hot Head is perfectly sexy, Griff and Dante are perfectly sexy and the author is perfectly sexy. Recently I read a post by Jason on Goodreads that said:
"Gay men seem to be more pressured and concerned with looks than their straight counterparts. Gay culture is a race for perfection.”
How would you respond to those who might accuse you of propagandizing perfection?
Innocently guilty. No. :) That’s a glib bullshit answer, so let me take that in stages.

 I have to admit, I don’t think of myself as perfectly anything. LOL Certainly not perfectly sexy. Where oh where is my 29-inch waist of yesteryear? :) I love my life and I dig who and what I am, but I would never call anyone perfect. Glamor is only possible from the outside, right? And yet… I’d like to tackle this question.

I agree with Jason in some respects. Men in general fixate obsessively on appearances and visual stimuli, in much the same way women are accused of harping on feelings and impressions and internal states. The bourgeois fascism of televisual culture situates unrealistic expectations über alles.

 Gay culture does fetishize perfection, but more damningly Western consumer culture expresses a bizarre advertising-driven sense of commodified experience which seeks to reduce conversation to soundbites and slogans, and encourages the ENTIRE world to be ready for a close-up that most likely will (and should) never come. I have a friend who’s an editor at Vogue and she always says that you could boil every “beauty” magazine down to a single sentence: “Just have perfect bone structure and be a 15 year-old that wears a size 2!” We don’t all need facelifts and pec implants to keep our jobs. We don’t all need to have bleached assholes and eleven inch cocks and G-cup breasts that can be filmed in HD close-ups. But we believe that we do because mass media teaches us that only with perfect bone structure, 2% body fat, and a nine-figure trust fund can we hope to find love and happiness. This is of course idiotic bullshit, but tenacious as plague in our cultural bloodstream. Advertising owns our imaginations if we let it. Now our entire civilization is infected with the insidious idea of camera-ready perfection because it SELLS us things we don’t need which must be bought with money we don’t have.

But Romance? Nope. Totally disagree there. Romance doesn’t make people unsatisfied with their futures, it teaches readers to expect more from their present. It’s escapism is active and participatory. Romance demands reader participation in the construction of perfections: physical, professional, emotional, magical. Romance doesn’t sell you perfection, it forces you to imagine and define your own sense of perfection, in itself a subjective creative exercise because your Helen of Troy is not mine. J I think Romance remains the most popular, powerful genre on the entire planet because it speaks to a primal core in humanity that craves connection and meaningful relationships. In a world that is mutating into a series of screens which stand between us and experience romance fiction plugs directly into our imaginations at a visceral level exploring issues of intimacy and transgression in a safe (but capacious) environment. That’s amazing. Advertising teaches us we need to be perfect, romance explore differing kinds of perfection. In that it fulfills a mythic function, tracing our fears and hopes along shifting lines.

No one accuses Renaissance Artists or of propagandizing perfection. They meditated on perfection, dissected it, analyzed it, reconfigured it, theorized its components… Creating beauty that enriches the world’s imagination doesn’t SELL beauty, it seeds beauty. And that is a campaign I can get behind!

Another comment : “That's why it saddens me when fiction pushes past the pages of a book, where the reader can be sure that's what he or she is digesting, and makes it's way to blogs and avatars. It may seem like a harmless game for a writer to blog as a gay man with the perfect life and the perfect boyfriend and scenes right out of fiction every day of their life and pictures of the characters that are worthy of a magazine cover. But is it? Does it not further propagate the lie that unless you are fake, you can never live up to the standards? Because in this instance, the reader may not be able to determine fact from fiction" 

From reading many of the interviews you’ve done and blog posts, you seem to have an amazing life, with a great partner a great job and we have already established the fact that you’re perfectly sexy. But, from what I’ve read, you come from humble beginnings and have worked very hard for your success. You sell your novel as fiction and your life as real. So I’m curious to your opinions on authors who portray a fictional life as real?

I think it’s kind of sad and I agree with Jason fully. How depressing  to be in the closet about your gender in a genre completely built around the danger of closets and the power of gender! Gack. That lie affects not only the writing but the lives of readers. And to think someone would go that route is pretty grim from any perspective.

Still, I know it happens and recently I’ve learned it happens even more than I’d believed possible. How would you designate those writers? Veneer queers? Faux-mos? LOL I dunno. It’s a skeezy bummer any way you look at it. As a gay man, it doesn’t offend me as much as it depresses me profoundly.

Here’s the deal: I have no trouble with people writing under pseudonyms to protect themselves or to partition their writing careers for branding purposes. Inventing fake lives and loves in order to “own” the fantasy or claim expertise just seems so callow and pointless. It does verge on the slightly creepy side of internet interactions, like 50 year old men posing as 12 year old girls. Gross. And like all lies, the ruse is driven by fear and will end in shame. Why would you ever think those were preferable to honest craft?

In truth I think this impulse goes back to our slashy roots and the early days of M/M when it was an accepted “truth” that woman got stuff “wrong” and gay men were more “authentic” when writing gay romance. That’s adolescent logic that bears zero relation to reality or what we know about sexuality. Gender is not SPECIES. All women are not the same any more than all men are the same. Ditto heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals and anything in between. We are not insects. Again, this feels like amateur dingdongery of the teenaged sort. Who on earth believes that you must BE your character to write your character? That’s demonstrably, categorically false throughout literary history! I think this (recent) idea has sprung up in the wake of memoir-obsessed, reality TV culture, because people without imagination cannot imagine the possibility of others who have imagination.

Now build on that question, would I ever shun an author in pseudonymous drag? No. Again, who cares about their chromosomal structure more than their sentence structure?

Basically, I think this trend is silly and sad, but we all have our challenges and lunacies so I don’t judge and don’t particularly care. I can’t fathom what could motivate a ploy that hypocritical. On the other hand, I think anyone who “uses” their publically-portrayed gender to characterize them as an expert should be looked at askance. That’s a spectacle I’ve witnessed more than once: faux-mos stomping around waggling the virtual gay “expertise” as if it were golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Fudgepacker Factory. Who thinks that way? I’d never say to another author of any gender, “Oh I’m a gay man therefore I speak for all gay men because my queer expertise has been certified by the Grand Poobah of Ass-Banditry.” If I offer opinions as a homo man, about homo-sex or homo-life, I’ll always qualify my answers as idiosyncratic and subjective. Life is complex; sex and gender exponentially so.

Look: if a faux-mo author writes great books, they’re still great, with or without the imaginary shaft in her pants. If a genetically tested and verified gay male writes a book that is garbage, it’s still garbage, meat notwithstanding. Genitals neither help nor harm their craft. Some of the most feeble, emasculated male characters are written by men. Some of the gruffest most rugged Butch McHunkacocks flow from female imaginations. Halleujah! Are we really so narrow and visionless that we must treat fiction like flat documentary reportage? Are any novelists in the world that literal and boring? Are any critics so naïve they believe romantic fantasy represents a realistic account of someone’s life? LOL As I’ve said elsewhere I couldn’t give one wet fecal deposit if you write what you know, but you must know what you write! Tell me a great story and I am your bitch, no matter what tools you’re packing. Does that make sense?

Personally, I think we should offer a month of amnesty for these closeted faux-mo writers because all I can think of is how foolish and trapped they must feel keeping up the ruse with a public that eventually WILL find out the truth, because the ruthless light of Truth invariably shines through everything. Isn’t that one of the main themes of M/M? Let’s help anyone brave enough be who they are proudly. Out of the closets and onto the shelves!

Thanks for spending a bit of time with me and answering my questions. Best wishes for your continued success.  Before you go, please let readers know where they can find you and Hot Head on the web:

Thank  you! I always have such a fantastic time chatting over here in this neck of the woods. :) Hot Head is available from Dreamspinner Press here in ebook and softcover; the audio book will be available in a few months. In addition, I’m part of the First Wave at Riptide where my novella Grown Men will be released this October; there’s info about that here. As for me, I’m all over the place. LOL Folks can find me most easily at:
§  Goodreads
§  Facebook
§  Google+

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Having lived all over (Houston, New York, London, Prague), he’s earned his crust as a model, a messenger, a promoter, a programmer, a sculptor, a singer, a stripper, a bookkeeper, a bartender, a techie, a teacher, a director… but writing has ever been his bread and butter.

Though new to M/M, Damon has been a full-time writer for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He has won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. You can get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment