Interview with author J.R. Lenk about his YA novel, “Collide”!

Author J.R. Lenk was kind enough to be the victim…subject…of my first ever interview.  His YA novel, Collide, was released by Harmony Ink Press last month and has been getting great reviews!

AUTHOR BIO:

If E.L. Doctorow was on point when he said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” J. R. LENK is a self-confessed pretty boy severely in need of a psychological once-over.

Cursed by a height barely scraping five foot five, he is a culture connoisseur. He’s a sucker for overcast skies and the smell of books, particularly good old-fashioned horror and gothic thrillers, à la Rice or Michael Cox. He enjoys a lot of things from movies about castrati to smoking cigarettes on the roof of his house, to classy sweaters and wayward glances, to successful sex hair and hobo chic. He’s an old soul with a little bit of a potty-mouth and a friends with benefits relationship with Red Bull and Microsoft Word that goes hand-in-hand with his love for Vivaldi and alternative rock in equal parts.

J. R. has been penning stories of the M/M or bisexual persuasion for years. He’s known to sometimes spontaneously burst into song, go off on twenty-minute tangents, and quote Sherlock Holmes (usually assuming the Robert Downey Jr. interpretation).

He currently lives near Pike’s Peak with his family and his one and only better half, but Seattle is his hometown and he finds himself inexplicably thinking about the West Coast every day. Visit J. R. on Twitter at http://twitter.com/prettyboysays/ or on Tumblr at http://mainliningsunsets.tumblr.com/.

INTERVIEW:

Is Collide your first novel?

You know, it’s funny. Collide is far from my first novel. It’s actually my third, out of about… six or seven now? Ha ha! One day I just sort of had one of those rare light bulb moments, when it hit me that I could make money off my writing. I’d been writing for fun for a good 8 or 9 years up until that point, but that was the moment I really forced myself to persevere through to the end of an ambitious project. And from there it’s just been a blast.

What inspired you to write Collide?

Hmm… The first two full-scale novels I wrote are actually gothic historicals, a resurrection of elegant Victorian-era vampires and their gory, grim creep factor, so deviating from that to write Collide was really a leap off the high dive for me. I don’t entirely remember what sparked the flame for Collide, but I think it had something to do with itching for a new idea and taking a 3-year old idea (albeit in “fanfiction” form from soooo long ago!) and deciding to experiment and see what happened if I made it “real fiction”. It became something so much more than I’d ever envisioned, and while it’s far from the way I write now, and rather whimsical as I feel most (even serious) YAs are, I could never be the writer I am now if I hadn’t written Collide.

According to your biography, you were eighteen when Collide was published.  Is Collide much like your experience of High School?

Yes! 🙂 I was 17 when I finished Collide, but 18 when I sent it to Harmony Ink Press. Yeah, I would definitely have to say that there are some scenarios in Collide that come from little pieces of personal experience… Though I’d have to say I was more a Jesse than a Hazard, in some senses. 😉 Watch out.

Do you plan on making writing a career, or do you have other career plans?

Oh, yes. Writing is and has been a passion of mine for years and years and years. A love for the arts is in my blood, and I’ve always been told to make a career out of the things you love rather than get stuck in “a job”—so I hope to make a career of the things that make up my life, a trifecta of writing, acting, and modeling.

How long does it usually take you to write a novel?

This definitely varies, ha ha! The first two novels I wrote took me a month each, while Collide didn’t take much longer because it was something of a transition, having written a good chunk a few years ago only to rewrite and transform a little. The other three novels I’ve written in the last few months have been about the same, a month of actual pedal-to-the-metal, can’t-stop-thinking-about-it writing, getting up early and working hard during most free time, and then casual editing between that and sending it off somewhere.

Do you have a favorite genre?

I would have to say my favorite genre, hands down, is paranormal. I love ghost stories. I love vampires (although I am not really a Twilight fan). I love horror. I cut my teeth on Stephen King and from there progressed to more gothic paranormal stories, but they definitely have to be written a certain way for me to get into them. I also really adore historicals.

However, I do like contemporary! I like raw, edgy, tragicomic kind of stuff. And sex. I enjoy sex from subtle hints to erotica to all-out smut.

How would you describe your experiences working as an author with Harmony Ink Press?

Mm, my experience working with Harmony Ink Press has been nothing but a blast. Not once did I ever feel like a “newb”, or ignorant in any way. And trust me, I asked maaaany questions, ha ha! It was really fun, though, working with a small publishing company like them because it’s a lot more… down-to-earth for lack of a better phrase, as I’m sure a lot of the authors and editors working at Harmony Ink Press are into the same things I am outside of m/m. 😉

What advice would you give novice writers looking to break into the YA M/M Romance genre?

Advice I would give to novice writers looking to break into the YA M/M Romance genre is to just write what you’d want to read. You’d be surprised how many people want to read it, too.

Being bisexual is cool now—unless you’re a boy. Or so it seems to invisible fifteen-year-old Hazard James. But when he falls in with bad apple Jesse Wesley, Hazard is suddenly shoved into the spotlight. Jesse and his friends introduce him to the underworld of teenage life: house parties, hangovers, the advantages of empty homes, and reputation by association. So what if his old friends don’t get it? So what if some people love to hate him? Screw gossip and high school’s secret rules. There’s just something about walking into a room and having all eyes on him when just last year nobody noticed him at all.

For a while Hazard basks in the attention, and before he realizes the depth of the waters he’s wading, he and Jesse strike up a “friends with benefits” routine. It could be something more, but what self-respecting teenage boy would admit it? Not Jesse—and so not Hazard, either. Not until it’s too late. Hazard and Jesse have collided, and Hazard’s life will never be the same.

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The Cover Art For Seidman!

The cover art for Seidman has just been released and it’s beautiful! The artist is Anne Cain and she’s managed to create a striking image that’s simple, memorable, and intense.  There have, of course, been other books about Vikings with Thor’s hammers on the cover, but Anne created a richly layered image with runes fading in and out and a beautiful use of light and shadow.  It really blows me away.

This weekend marks the end of editing.  I’ve received the galley proof, which is a PDF copy of the entire novel, including all of the forewords and afterwards and dedications, and even some ads for other Harmony Ink releases at the end.  The only thing that isn’t in final format is this cover, which didn’t arrive in my inbox until a couple hours ago, and a map I created of Viking Age Scandinavia.

The map was something I’d been working on for a while, but since it wasn’t done when the editors wanted it, I gave up and figured I’d just have to settle for putting it up on my blog.  Fortunately, the editors contacted me and asked me if I still planned on having a map, so I was able to polish it up and send it to them this weekend.  They say it looks all right, so it will be included!

NOTE:  You may have noticed that I’m now calling it Seidman, instead of Seiðman.  This was a decision my publisher and I came to recently (I was actually the one who suggested it), because it just didn’t make sense to call the novel something people couldn’t type without having to look up an extended ASCII code.  How would anybody know what to search for on Amazon?  Inside the novel, we’ve kept the Old Icelandic words as they were, but the title is now easier to remember and spell.

As far as I know, Seidman is on track to be released in mid-June!  This is going to be great!

Runes In Viking Age Iceland

So late last night, as I was finishing up a third edit of my Seidman for Harmony Ink (note that the name of the novel had to be changed to remove the “ð” for ease of spelling, so people can search on the name), I discovered that I’d been using the rune names found in popular books on runes.

If you’ve ever read any books like this, such as Futhark or Runelore, both by Edred Thorsson, or Taking Up The Runes by Diana Paxson, you’re probably already familiar with names such as Laguz, Ansuz, and Jera.  Well, the fact of the matter is, nobody really knows for certain that these names were ever used for the runes.  They’re proto-Germanic, which means that linguists derived them by applying their knowledge of the way languages evolve over time, coming up with what they think the names of the runes could have been in the distant past.  But there is no actual record of these names.

What we do have, are rune poems, written in Old English, Old Norwegian, and Old Icelandic.  These are poems written towards the end of the Viking Age — 8th or 9th century — and they give us lists of the runes, along with mnemonic phrases which where presumably used to remember their meanings.  For instance, in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, we find:

[Đorn] is exceedingly sharp,
an evil thing for any knight to touch,
uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

If you remember the verse, then you can remember what the rune Þorn represents.  Unfortunately, the translations of the poems aren’t always particularly memorable to modern English speakers, but they do tell us what the runes were called in the 8th and 9th centuries.  And many believe that the poems hint at the deeper occult meanings of the runes.

Since Seidman takes place in 10th-century Iceland, my characters would most certainly not be referring to the “L” rune as Laguz.  Instead, they would call it Lögr.  This might not trip up readers, but I think using the Old Icelandic names will actually add to the realism of the setting.  There is always the danger of taking it too far, of course, and boring or confusing the reader with details about the language and culture of a particular time and place. but I think readers also have a sense of what feels generic.  A specific detail dropped in here and there can bring the setting to life.

I only use a few rune names in Seidman, but for anybody interested in the subject, I’ll throw out a little information here:

By the 9th century, Icelanders were using a runic alphabet that had been simplified to just sixteen runes, as opposed to the twenty-four you usually come across in rune books.  These were:

And this is the Icelandic Rune Poem, with the names of each rune (in the order above) in brackets:

[ = Wealth] source of discord among kinsmen and fire of the sea and path of the serpent.
[Úr = Shower] lamentation of the clouds and ruin of the hay-harvest and abomination of the shepherd.
[Þurs = Giant] torture of women and cliff-dweller and husband of a giantess.
[Óss = God] aged Gautr and prince of Ásgarðr and lord of Vallhalla.
[Reið = Riding] joy of the horsemen and speedy journey and toil of the steed.
[Kaun = Ulcer] disease fatal to children and painful spot and abode of mortification.
[Hagall = Hail] cold grain and shower of sleet and sickness of serpents.
[Nauð = Constraint] grief of the bond-maid and state of oppression and toilsome work.
[Ís = Ice] bark of rivers and roof of the wave and destruction of the doomed.
[Ár = Plenty] boon to men and good summer and thriving crops.
[Sól = Sun] shield of the clouds and shining ray and destroyer of ice.
[Týr = Týr] god with one hand and leavings of the wolf and prince of temples.
[Bjarkan = Birch] leafy twig and little tree and fresh young shrub.
[Maðr = Man] delight of man and augmentation of the earth and adorner of ships.
[Lögr = Water] eddying stream and broad geyser and land of the fish.
[Ýr = Yew] bent bow and brittle iron and giant of the arrow.

This particular English translation was done by someone on the Ragweed Forge Website.

The President And Vice President Publicly State Support For Same-Sex Marriage!

Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden stated his support of same-sex marriage in an interview and, after a depressing decision by voters to add discrimination to the state constitution of North Carolina, President Obama stated his support for same-sex marriage, as well.

This is huge!  It doesn’t change things in any legal way, but it marks the first time in the history of our country that the highest officials have publicly stated their support of same-sex marriage.  The President also has an enormous influence overseas, so other countries will be affected by his support.

Here is the video for Vice President Joe Biden’t earlier interview:

I’ve submitted a new YA fantasy novel!

After working on the stupid thing for over a year now, I’ve finally finished and submitted my YA fantasy novel, Dreams of Fire and Gods: Awakening (formerly known as The Guardians Awaken).  It was one of those novels that just kept getting more complex as I wrote it, so even after I told my publisher that it was ready to go, once I finished up a couple little things…it took four more weeks.

Don’t ever do this.  I’m lucky that my publisher is understanding.

The biggest stumbling block was that this is part one of a trilogy.  When I mentioned that little tidbit, my publisher said, “Okay.  Go ahead and submit it.  But I want to see a summary of all three novels, so I know where you intend to go with it.”

This turned out to be fantastic advice.  Once I sat down and actually started writing up the summaries, I realized I didn’t really have more than a general idea where the stories were going.  I had some ideas for scenes and I knew the general story arc, but there were enormous gaps.  That’s one reason it took so long to prepare for submission.  (The other reason was that my friend, Claire, pointed out a number of points in the finished first novel that needed to be addressed, prompting another rewrite.)

But now I have a fairly concrete idea about how the next two novels will go and I’ve submitted the manuscript, at last!

Here’s the teaser for it that I put in my cover letter:

A thousand years ago, the kingdom was nearly destroyed, as two factions of gods — the Stronni and the Taaweh — warred for the land and the frightened humans who lived there.  Then suddenly the Taaweh vanished and the Stronni declared victory.

Now, as the likelihood of a war between the Emperor and his regent, Vek Worlen, approaches, the Vek’s son, Sael, finds himself allied with Koreh, a homeless vagabond, as he flees the capital city and makes his way across a hostile wilderness to his father’s keep.

But Koreh has dreams — dreams of the ancient Taaweh — and he knows that the looming war between the Emperor and the Vek will be nothing, compared to the war that is about to begin.  Because the Taaweh are returning and the war between the gods may destroy the kingdom and all who dwell there.

Skyr

Vanilla Skyr

Skyr is a popular yogurt-like substance made in Iceland that has been part of the Icelandic diet since it was settled around 870 C.E.  I’ve written about it in several stories, including Seiðman, but until this week I’d never actually tasted it.

I tried and failed to acquire some from a local market, which claimed to carry it (but lied), but finally my friend Claire picked some up in Maine and brought it over for me.  Now at last, I know what it actually tastes like!

I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  Not because it tasted bad.  It tasted fine.  But I was hoping for something unusual and what I got was something that tastes exactly like Greek yogurt to me.  If you can’t find skyr locally, go to the supermarket and pick up some plain Greek yogurt (which is easy to find, these days) and you’ll pretty much know what skyr tastes like.  It’s thicker and creamier than American yogurt.

On the plus side, my descriptions of it weren’t wrong.  We don’t know for certain whether it was exactly the same in the Viking Age as it is in Iceland today, but it probably wasn’t radically different.  They make it with skim milk today, and it would have been made with whole milk in the past, of course.  Icelanders often mixed it with porridge to make something called hræringur (“stirred”) or ate it with cream and sugar on it.  I gather that they still do, but now they add fruit to it, just like we do with our yogurt.

Also, it’s good to know that there is something in the Viking Age I would have been able to eat without wanting to hurl.  The Viking Age Icelandic diet consisted of delicious items such as whale meat fermented in whale urine, beef fermented in whey until it practically disintegrated, and lichen.  Mmm….