My guest today is Andrew Peters, an author who is causing a stir amongst those readers devoted to shifter fiction and whose novel about the last days of Atlantis is getting close to the top of my TBR pile.
Welcome, Andrew, and thanks for answering my questions.
Elin: Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
Andrew: Well, I wanted to be a writer from the time I started reading. I used to make my own picture books, and when I was a little older I started reading fantasies and mysteries and coming up with my own stories.
Then, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but that ambition didn’t make it beyond having to take organic chemistry in college.
I also grew up with a strong interest in social justice causes, from women’s reproductive rights to anti-militarism. I studied to be a social worker, and I worked for eighteen years as a counselor and an advocate for LGBT youth. Presently, I work at a University directing a social work program. I teach a course on Oppression and Human Rights, which is one of my favorite parts of the job.
Elin: When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
Andrew: Most of the time I’m writing about faraway, imaginary places so my real world hobbies don’t tend to figure in. I used to play the cello and the piano.
Nowadays, cooking is pretty much the only other creative outlet for me. I’m completely self-taught, unless you count cooking shows as a form of training. And I wouldn’t want to overstate my talent in this area. But I am inspired by the precision of cooking craft as well as presentation. My friends would say my best dish is a chocolate cream pie that I pretty up with a fluffy mound of fresh whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.
Elin: Can you name any author/authors, past or present, who have been a great influence on your work?
Andrew: People who have read interviews with me before are probably sick of hearing about my profuse admiration of Gregory Maguire. I just love his point-of-view, which tends to be pretty cynical yet he has a definite soft spot for misunderstood characters, most famously the Wicked Witch of the West.
With traditional legends and fairytales, there’s a whole audience that’s left out – those of us who don’t fit into the mold of the hero or heroine. Or, we’re made to feel even more alienated because we see some part of ourselves reflected in the villain like being beaten down by society or being jealous of others who seem to have it easier or not conforming with gender norms or just being socially awkward. So I really appreciate a story where lesser known characters or villains are illuminated in a different way; and as in Maguire’s Wicked series, what we’ve been told about “good” and “evil” is looked at critically. I tend to take that approach with almost everything I write.
Another story that had a big influence on me was Douglas Clegg’s “Mordred: Bastard Son.” Clegg writes mostly thrillers, but his retold King Arthur legend caught my eye. It accomplishes something similar to “Wicked” by providing a new, really compelling portrayal of a character we’ve been told to hate.
Elin: What are you reading? Something to be clutched to the bosom or tossed aside with force? Fiction or non-fiction?
Andrew: By the time this interview gets posted, I expect to have finished Helene Wecker’s “The Golem and the Jinni.” I almost finished its 500 pages while on vacation in Puerto Rico earlier this month. This is a book to be clutched to the bosom most definitely. I knew very little about the folklore behind golems and jinni, and Wecker does an extraordinary job bringing those creatures to life.
Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Andrew: I’ve become more of a plotter over the years. When I get beyond writing page sixty or thereabouts, my brain just can’t keep hold of all the storyline and character trajectories that need to take place in a novel.
Elin: I see that you’re writing about a society based on one of my own passions, classical Greece. What is it about this culture that appeals to you?
Andrew: I think the Greeks were great storytellers, and though it’s been somewhat idealized, their culture had a great appreciation of the arts in its many forms. That just appeals to my sensibilities, and I’m also drawn to the earthy mysticism of ancient cultures. Maybe it’s the earthy Virgo in me. J
Elin: Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them?
Andrew: They’re rarely fully-fledged. I’d say they usually get two or three passes in a manuscript draft before I’ve genuinely grasped what it is they really want.
In my upcoming The Seventh Pleiade, the main character Aerander is a sixteen-year old prince from ancient Atlantis. He’s got sort of an understated personality, so while his quest was clear (Save Atlantis!), it was a little difficult for me to pluck out why he’s so determined to do it. At one point, I made him write a diary in order to tell me his story in a different way and then I was able to go back to my third-person narrative more assured of his motivations.
Elin: Your latest release is about ‘shifters’ – men who can change into animal form. Would you like to be able to shift, and if so into what kind of beast? Also, in your book the shifters are were-cats. Why cats and not the regular wolves?
Andrew: I think I would like to be able to shift into a jungle panther. Some of my staff, and my students, might say I’m capable of doing that already.
I try to pull back from talking about my feline obsession, for fear that I’ll bore people or they’ll think I’m a lunatic. But I love cats. I’ve always had a cat as a companion. I conceived Werecat as an answer to the largely heterosexual werewolf/vampire trope. But beyond wanting to write a satisfying sexy tale about supernatural gay men, I also wanted to explore cat mysticism, which really is a much richer and interesting tradition than werewolf legends IMHO. Cats figure into the spiritual beliefs of nearly every ancient world culture. If any animal shifters were possible through the untapped power of arcane mysticism, it would have to be cats, right?
Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
Andrew: I’m a pretty visual guy so I usually have a picture in my head of each of my characters.
Elin: Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one where the romance is a sub plot?
Andrew: I don’t think I’ve ever written a story which is solely a romance. There are always romantic through-lines, but for example in Werecat, the overarching story is about how the main character Jacks will survive and thrive in the violent, secretive world of feline shifters.
I’m a fairly rigid student of plot and structure techniques – creating scenes as building blocks for the story, keeping things on course by accelerating the tension and the stakes. When there are several throughlines in the story, that process is more challenging. But I like complex stories and I think readers do as well. In fact, one thing this makes me think about is you never know what readers will respond to in your work. Maybe romance is the sub-plot, but that part of the story is the main reason some people read the story through to the end because that’s what they care about the most.
In The Seventh Pleiade, I had one reader approach me enthusiastically saying: “I LOVED the character of Danae. She’s adorable. She better not die in the flood!” I skipped several beats before I could respond. I couldn’t remember at first who Danae was. She’s the younger sister of the hero Aerander, and she’s in about ten pages of a 250 page story. So, putting my ego aside (you were supposed to fall in love with the main character!), I think the lesson for me was variety in a story is key.
Elin: Putting together your ideal team of men – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?
Andrew: Wow. Well, I recently read Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentleman, and I’d have to say her dashing policeman cum Inquisitor Captain Harper would make for a rather welcome rescuer if this damsel ever gets in distress. Then equally, I think Helene Wecker’s Golem could take care of any menace that I faced.
In the non-fiction world, and my husband knows this, Dwayne Johnson can come and save me anytime.
Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?
Andrew: I prefer the brand of villains-you-love-to-hate. I’m a Game of Thrones buff, and I have to admit I root for the Lannisters sometimes because they’re so smooth and smart and conniving. Sersei Lannister is a gem of a villain in my opinion.
Unexpected villains also get me zoomed into a story. This is a horrible example on one hand, because it falls into the awful trope of gay men as predators. But the movie Death Trap with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve was one of the first films that gave me the goosebumps, discovering – out of nowhere – that these two mild mannered guys had cooked up a sensationally sinister plot.
Elin: What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
Andrew: I’m plodding through a very in-depth revision of the prequel to The Seventh Pleiade. It’s taken from the legend of Poseidon and his mortal wife Cleito and how they built the empire of Atlantis. I say plodding because it’s an ambitious project for me with many characters and alternating POVs. The first draft needs some serious TLC.
Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something?
Andrew: Surely! Here’s a short, humid scene from Werecat. It takes place after the main character Jacks wakes up in Montréal’s Mont Royal Park after a drinking jag, and he meets a strangely captivating drifter named Benoit. After spending the morning touring the park, they decide to go back to Benoit’s place.
Benoit’s room was at a hostel near the park. They had strict rules against guests bringing in guests, but Benoit improvised a plan. He kept the front door clerk distracted with an obscure sightseeing question so Jacks could slip past the entry lounge with Benoit’s key and hold open the locked door to the dormitory.
Inside, Benoit gave him a towel and showed him to the men’s bathroom. The dingy, tan, tiled place was empty. Jacks peeled off his clothes and stepped into a curtained shower stall, rich with mildew. Still, the hot water washing away the grime from his body felt luxurious. He closed his eyes while the shower dowsed his head.
A presence filled up the space behind him. Jacks turned and jolted, and his hand jumped to cover his mouth. Benoit had slipped into the stall noiselessly. Jack’s pinched-up feelings of caution, and surprise fell away as he took in Benoit’s nakedness. His body was rangy and efficient. He had high broad shoulders, scruffy black hair on his lean stomach, and a trunk between his legs that showed his desire in captivating proportions. The green of his irises sparkled, somehow more brilliant in the darkened stall, and for a moment, his pupils looked elliptic. Then Benoit kissed Jacks forcefully, backing him up against the shower wall.
Jacks’ vision closed up as Benoit’s mouth devoured all parts of his body. He felt weightless, beyond himself, as though by the effects of a drug. His hand raked Benoit’s hair as he stooped to Jacks’ waist. Jacks teetered with exquisite tension, inhaled by Benoit, their bodies joined, the world stripped away. He raked Benoit’s hair more roughly. A strange vision filled his head: hands morphing into claws and reaching out to gouge the wall. Benoit clasped the midsection of Jacks’ back and scored lines down his skin. Jacks shuddered with a desperate groan. Breathing heavy, he squinted down at Benoit. His emerald eyes flared, still hungry.
Werecat is available from the following distributors:
All Romance e-Books: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-werecattherearing-1216148-145.html
If you would like to follow Andrew online click the links below:
Author website: http://andrewjpeterswrites.com
Many thanks Andrew for visiting. Feel free to drop by again.