My guest today is Liam Livings, writer, baker extraordinaire, and fellow organiser of the annual UK Meet conference for lovers of LGBTTQ fiction, who has just released a touching romance called And Then That Happened with Love Lane Books.
Welcome Liam and thanks for answering my questions.
You’re an old hand at this author malarkey by now. 🙂 If you could go back in time, is there anything you would like to tell your newbie self that would have made things easier?
I wouldn’t go that far; I’ve only been writing to be published since 2012, but I feel I’ve learned how to write quickly, then edit slowly, so I have been able to write quite a bit in 2014. Anyway…I seem to use similar names for characters, so a spreadsheet/list of character names would have helped, rather than having to *find & replace* halfway through writing it.
Also, don’t sweat the details of the first draft too much, just tell the story, get it down on paper. There’s that many stages of editing, with myself, post beta readers, content edits, line edits, proof stage, that worrying at first draft stage whether I’ve used a particular phrase or words too often at that stage is pointless (I think). Just get it down, you can change it when you read it as a reader, not as a writer. My favourite phrases at the moment seem to be: A jolt to the groin (so much so that my BF said the story should be renamed A Jolt To The Groin, and even made me a mock cover for it); For wont of anything better to do (Sue Brown’s comments in that story were hilarious as she worked through the manuscript. Towards the end she just put *not again* in a comment box.)
Dominic and Gabe, the MCs of And Then That Happened, are two very memorable characters. Did you make them up completely or was any aspect of their situations or personalities that were inspired by your own personal experience or that of friends?
As I’ve written more I think I put a bit of myself in all the characters I write. I don’t think I every completely make up characters from thin air. I like to use a phrase, a characteristic of someone I know or have seen, lyrics from a song, an expression in a film, something, then think what if and use that as the start for a character, brainstorming their background, likes and dislikes etc. I have a marvellous questionnaire for characters from Kate Long’s session on characters at the RNA conference, it really helps you get to know your characters.
I met a friend who was in the process of splitting up with his boyfriend, and some of that, and other elements of him have gone into Gabe’s story, but this friend is *not* Gabe. Almost all of Gabe was from my imagination. Dominic’s careful nature with money and how he is with his friends is very much like me I suppose. I think his forthright nature is a bit of wish fulfilment on my behalf. The Di Anne character and actions may have been influenced by my friend’s account of a colleague she worked with at the time, who is not called Di Anne, nor does she work in a hospital, obvs.
Of all your characters who would you be most enjoy pushing downstairs, sharing a taxi cab with, or having them move in next door so you saw them every day?
In And Then That Happened, I’d push Matt (Dominic’s best friend) downstairs as he deserves it. I’d love to share a taxi cab with Carol Anne (Dominic’s mum) as she’d have me in stitches at her (unintentionally) funny stories about her daily trials and challenges. Anyone who doesn’t let you kiss them too close for fear of spotting the surgery scars behind their ears is going to be a laugh to talk to I reckon. I’d love Gabe to move next door, so I could see him every day. His enthusiasm for adventures, and grabbing life by the balls and just getting on with it, would be a great tonic.
Short vs long. As a reader, which do you prefer to read? As a writer, would you say that a short story is harder to write than a long one?
Depends what I’m reading. I read a YA novel of only 350 pages, but it had very few characters and was first person POV. It was just what it needed to be. I love a good multi character saga – Lace, Valley of the Dolls or An Absolute Scandal [read Liam’s blog posts here, here and here] – 900 pages with thirty characters and I absolutely *loved* every single page of it 🙂 However, I read a horror novel and the start was great, the end was great, but it really needed 200 pages removing in the middle. I kept reading thinking, I get it, I get what’s happened, we don’t need to see the same thing happen to a different character *again*. But I’m sure others would make that criticism of my well-loved sagas I’ve mentioned; not me though. There’s something about a long book, I absolutely adore, diving into the story, losing yourself in the narrative. I normally save the big 600page plus ones for holidays.
As a writer, the first thing I wrote was 200,000 words – Best Friends Perfect, which I now know was way too long for gay fiction, so it’s being published as a trilogy. Length depends on genre I reckon. My fellow RNA authors say 90,000 is a normal length for them and saga authors say it’s got to be 135,000 words or it’s not a saga. But in gay romance it seems to be shorter, 65,000 or fewer.
I think a short story is harder to write as you’ve not got any space to faff about with, but it’s easier in that once you get to 20,000 words you’re done. Personally I prefer to write longer, as it gives you more page time to explore the characters, get them to do stuff, think about things, fall in love, fall out of love, all that jazz.
I’ve just finished a first draft of Kev’s story (Kieran’s cross dressing best friend from Best Friends Perfect) and it’s three 65,000 word stories (a lot happens to him, he’s one of those characters who despite everyone’s best efforts always ends up in trouble, but he’s lovely with it) so in total it’s almost 200,000 words. With that many words you can have people coming in, leaving, coming back, have new characters they meet, a variety of romantic interests. But with a short story, you can’t really have that much tooing and froing with characters cos there’s not the time to get to know them, I’ve found, anyway.
What’s next from the pen, typewriter, state of the art word processor of Liam Livings?
In 2015 I have a series of sequels I’m planning to write. For exactly the reason I like longer stories, I think I’ve worked out I like a series, I like to come back to the characters, really go on a journey with them. Also if you have the characters, broadly
the setting, as far as planning the next book, you’re pretty well in to the next story aren’t you? No need to start from scratch, you just have to think about what they’re going to do.
I attempted to write a gay version of Lace/Valley Of The Dolls called Glitzy Gay Saga, and I’d like to revisit that; see if it’s not quite as *disastrously awful* as I think it is at the moment, then see if I can write a sequel and take the characters to a British film industry setting or something similar. Such fun!
Can I please have an excerpt of something?
Here’s the scene when fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life.
The fourth of June 1999 at eight thirty pm, it was raining, as expected in a British summer. I looked up from my handover note in the staff room; he pushed the door open slowly and sat opposite me, smiling at everyone else.
It was my fourth of a string of extra nights, and I felt the sort of tiredness that comes from a series of night shifts where you grab hours of poor quality sleep during the day, between batting about with housework and other chores. The sort of tiredness only people with young babies or night workers can fully understand. His arrival immediately woke me back to more than normal levels.
My gaydar gave me mixed signals as he wore Timberland shoes and a very plain jacket over his nurses tunic.
He smiled at me, shook his curly dark brown hair so water sprayed around the room, then removed his jacket. ‘Look at me, Ernest! Just look at me! I’m soaking wet!’
The day sister looked him up and down. ‘Ernest, who’s he?’
‘I’m assuming you’re Gabriel, from the agency.’
He nodded. ‘Gabe.’
But as soon as he quoted Death Becomes Her—I knew for definite, without a shadow of a doubt, he was as gay as bunting. No straight man quotes that film, not in this world or the next. ‘Spanish, are you?’ I asked, feigning disinterest.
‘My dad is.’ He stared at me, his long brown eyelashes framing his eyes perfectly.
I deliberately allocated myself at the far end of the ward from him. I didn’t want to come across as too keen. Besides, I was happily partnered.
And Then That Happened
Should you settle for a nearly perfect happiness or put your heart on the line for more?
It’s 1999 and 28-year-old Dominic’s carefully planned suburban life with his boyfriend Luke is perfect. His job as a nurse, his best friend Matt, his relationship with his parents, everything is just right. He and Luke have been together ten years, seen
each other through friends’ deaths and their parents’ ups and downs, and even had a commitment ceremony.
Gabe isn’t happy with his boyfriend, but he stays with him, because, well it’s complicated.
Fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life. And then that happened. Gabe’s open relationship, impulsive nature, enthusiasm for life and straight talking advice are fascinating to Dominic. They’re friends, they click over a shared love of Goldie Hawn and Gabe shows Dominic there can be more to life than planned and safe. So why can’t he take his own advice?
And Then That Happened is about finding a new kind of happiness, even when what you have is already perfect. And how sometimes perfect isn’t quite what it seems.