How excited am I today? Really excited. Because Lisa Henry is here in the interview hotseat to answer some questions. Lisa is the author of the excellent Tribute (now available in paperback) and unless you’ve been living under a rock…or on an island (rimshot), you’ve heard of her latest book, The Island. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor. It’s as good as you’ve heard it is. And I’m about to gush all over it until it slowly scoots its chair away from me.
Lisa, welcome to the blog.
You live in Australia. I’ve never been to Australia. Please confirm for me that just before you sat down for this interview, you chased a wombat out of your yard, fed the kangaroos, went surfing, and made an appointment to have the drop bear exterminators come by.
All apart from the drop bear exterminators because, you know, nothing can kill drop bears. Those things are lethal.
But I’m not lying when I tell you that at least twice a week I have to evict a tree frog from my toilet, and keep my bread locked away because otherwise the possums break in through the shutters to steal it. I have named one of the possums Johnny Rotten. Here he is doing a pathetic job of breaking in. I mean, the door was open.
I love him!
I was recently fooled by the drop bear legend while doing research for a book. I don’t consider myself a gullible person, but Google made this renegade koala subspecies seem so real. Have you ever personally told an unsuspecting non-Australian that drop bears exist?
Yes. It is my patriotic duty.
Around the same time I learned about drop bears, I first heard rumors that dolphins rape people. You live closer to dolphins than I do. Will you please go ask them what’s up with that?
I’m too scared to approach them now.
Well I’m not going to do it—what if they drag me to their rape caves? Can we get Johnny Rotten to do it?
I have a lot of questions about The Island. Normally in interviews I like to ask people questions that they probably haven’t been asked before. But in this case, to satisfy my own curiosity, I’m going to ask a bunch of really standard author interview questions. Such as:
When and how did the idea for The Island come to you?
I’ve always loved stories with unreliable narrators, and always wanted to try and write a story where the reader isn’t being shown the whole picture. In The Island, Shaw doesn’t lie to the reader anymore than he lies to himself, but the impression that the reader gets is very different from what is actually going on. I wanted there to be an “Aha!” moment, like those Magic Eye pictures you’ve stared at for ages that suddenly come into focus. That’s the story that I wanted to write. I shaped the plot around that central idea.
I’m curious about your author-character relationship with Shaw, the MC. He spends so much of the book rejecting the notion that he is or could ever be a “good guy.” Was he a hard character to write?
I loved writing Shaw! The guy exists in a moral grey area, which is absolutely fascinating to me. He’s a good guy in the sense that he’s on the side of right, but does the end always justify the means? I got to explore those questions as I wrote Shaw, and I also got to write an Australian character, who got to say what we’re all thinking: At least when we have a world series, we’re not the only country in it. I mean, c’mon, guys!
Ouch. Okay, fine.
It was actually much harder to write Lee, because for so much of the story he’s passive and it would have been too easy just to make him the pretty, pitiful victim. His character deserved more than that.
The ending is one of my favorite things about the book—those last forty pages or so where you take the time to describe Lee’s recovery process and the events that lead him to seek Shaw. I feel like the ending could have been very rushed and a lot of those details glossed over to get to the HEA, and I was so glad it wasn’t like that. Did you know from the get-go that you were going to devote that kind of time to rebuilding Lee?
Without rebuilding Lee he would have been just what he was to Vornis and the others — an object. He had to be a person. I could only show so much of that in flashback; there had to be recovery as well. If Lee’s recovery didn’t feel real, it would have invalidated everything that came before it.
Another thing I really appreciated was Lee’s therapist asking, “Do you think that it [Lee and Shaw’s relationship] could in any way be an even relationship?” I felt that was an important point to acknowledge, even if there’s no definite answer to the question. Do you personally think Shaw and Lee’s relationship ever can be an even one?
I have to thank Theresa, my editor, for that. She asked that exact same question in an early email, and I totally stole it. You’re right: it had to be addressed even though it couldn’t be answered.
I think that Shaw and Lee can have an equal relationship, in time. They aren’t there at the end of The Island, because Lee is still very much finding his feet. But Lee is stronger than he thinks, and Shaw is better than he thinks, so I think they’ll get there in the end. I hope it came across that while Shaw saved Lee physically, Lee saved Shaw on an emotional level. Shaw and Lee were exactly what they each needed. Shaw was a man who really didn’t like what he was becoming. In saving Lee, Shaw also saved himself.
The whole time I was reading The Island, I kept thinking if this book had been available to me when I was a sixteen or seventeen, I would have felt so much less alone as far as the kind of romance I fantasized about. To find such a dark m/m a romance with strong themes of violence and redemption that tackles complex moral issues is really cool. When you write romance, to what extent are you thinking about what readers might want to see—or what you’re able to do for them—and to what extent are you writing for yourself?
I am always writing for myself, so in that sense it’s a massive surprise when other people actually like it! If I start worrying about what other people might like or dislike, I’d never get anything written at all.
The relationship between violence and sex fascinates me. Whether we like it or not, people are violent. And whether we like it or not, sex is not always an expression of mutual love and respect. I love exploring the grey areas, because that’s what interests me. People are complicated. Characters should be as well.
Also, when I was sixteen I was totally attempting to write m/m dark/violent/torture/sex/hurty-comfort/pain. Then my Mum found it. And we had a Serious Talk. And she didn’t look me in the eye for about a month afterward, but at least we laugh about it now, right?
Wow. I’m glad you can laugh about it now, and that it didn’t dissuade you from continuing to write on those themes. At that age I was always scared someone was gonna find that kind of stuff in my notebooks or on my computer and I would never recover from the shame. Now my parents buy my books and are like, “Good job, honey.” Go figure.
What, if anything, was different for you about writing The Island versus writing Tribute?
The Island is the flipside to Tribute. Tribute is very much a fantasy about sexual slavery, and as a fantasy I think you’re allowed to suspend your disbelief. It’s a fantasy scenario in a fantasy universe, so when bad shit happens to Kynon it’s okay to be a voyeur. It’s okay to watch him lose his innocence, and sit back and enjoy the ride. As I wrote Tribute though, I kept thinking to myself, This is not how it would be in reality. In reality it would be fucked up. So even though they have nothing in common, a lot of The Island came straight from Tribute.
Well put. That’s what I loved about Tribute, being able to enjoy that fantasy. What’s a typical writing day like for you?
My day job is shift work, so I don’t do routines. If I’m on nights I’ll take my laptop into work and try and get some writing done there — I have a very cool boss. Otherwise I’ll write after work. I write best after dark, with a glass of wine close by.
I’ve heard you say that you’re not the most organized person in the world. Nor am I. Rank these organizational tools on a scale of most to least intimidating:
Excel spreadsheet - I don’t do Excel. Or anything with numbers.
Chapter by chapter outline - terrifying. Oh god no! This is kryptonite to all committed pansters. Having said that, I’ll go through my shambles of a first draft with a fine toothcomb and cut and paste the hell out of it.
Calendar. I have a calendar. I just don’t write on it. Or look at it. I think it was a Christmas present.
Partitioned drawers - I’m currently looking at the pile of paperwork on my floor that has slipped off the chair it was living on. ’nuff said.
Labels - I like labels, and I admire people organized enough to use them. I’m just not one of them.
Buxton Bag - I had to Google this. I’m not intimidated by the idea of these, but I would never buy one because I feel it would try to judge me.
Day planner - My day planner is on my phone. I put my shifts in it. I did have one on my wall, but I haven’t written on it since January.
Grocery list - I have an iPhone app. Seriously. Not because I’m tech savvy, but because I kept losing my bits of paper.
Not intimidated by the Buxton Bag? Did you watch this infomercial?
I’m afraid I would put my hand in to grab my prescription and accidentally pull out Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
I’m afraid I would put my hand in to grab my prescription and accidentally pull out Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
My god! That is phenomenal! Okay, now I’m intimidated.
I understand that your dog, like mine, enjoys eating things that maybe the average person wouldn’t consider edible. Please make a list of the strangest thing your dog has chewed/devoured. I will make my list. And we’ll compare.
Cleo has eaten:
My brother-in-law’s new expensive sunglasses. This was not unusual, but it was less than an hour after he bought them and it cost me $120.
An iPod. My iPod. Dammit.
Christmas. Okay, so I’d just spent an hour putting up all the Christmas lights on my verandah, and I thought, I’ll just grab a chair and put a piece of tinsel above the door. In the less-than-thirty-seconds it took me to get a chair, Cleo had chewed through the power cord of the Christmas lights. My family discovered me ripping down the Christmas tree and shouting that we weren’t having Christmas EVER AGAIN.
A lizard. It was still alive. Give me the lizard, Cleo, I said. Drop it, Cleo. Have you ever seen the dogs suck in spaghetti in The Lady and the Tramp? It was like that, but traumatic.
Also, she once put a frog in her mouth but I think it did something disgusting because she spat it out and then threw up. In my car.
LMAO, ATE CHRISTMAS. Okay, Cleo wins. But here’s Professor Anne’s list anyway:
Eyesight the plush carrot. Technically her toy to do with as she wished, but still, the violent removal of Eyesight’s sweet smiling carrot face and subsequent strewing of stuffing was both impressive and disturbing.
1/3 of my mom’s couch.
My mom’s Bluetooth. Oops.
My khakis. (Then puked them up on and around my toilet. But not in.)
The family dog’s hump toy, a stuffed beagle called Gnarles Barklay.
My mom’s TV remote.
I don’t know why she mostly eats stuff when we’re visiting my mom. Or why my family feels compelled to name stuffed animals.
I’m not going to be able to get that Lady and the Tramp lizard image out of my head.
Gnarles Barklay. Oh, that’s brilliant. Can your family adopt me? I’ll buy your mom a new couch if she says yes.
I think my mom would agree to anything for a new couch.
Time to plot a new romance novel!
Please pick a name for MC #1 from the following list:
Lord Ruckford Winterslop
Curtis “Two-Seater” McCullough
Dr. Stanley Speyn.
Please pick a name for MC #2:
The Artist Formerly Known as Bambee
Greg “Sparkles” Majoy
Please select a profession for MC #1:
Pet shop owner
Reclusive Prime Minister
Martial arts instructor
And for MC #2:
Manager of a prominent annual festival
Reality show writer
Once you have made your choices, please compose a blurb for a book that features these characters. Try to incorporate at least three of the following words/phrases. You get 500 million points if you use them all.
what he didn’t count on
before it’s too late
a case of mistaken identity
the rightful owner of the diamond
an age old family feud
the storm of the century
from his past
the shores of
the most dangerous game of all
Daniel Pike-Landoll, pet shop owner and part-time blues guitarist, doesn’t have time for a relationship. With the storm of the century forming just off the shores of Miami, Daniel is astonished to receive a mysterious package containing what appears to be the fabled Rajah’s Diamond. Is this a case of mistake identity, or is the diamond somehow linked to an age-old family feud that Daniel thought he’d escaped when he left England? What he didn’t count on was Greg “Sparkles” Majoy, an undercover cop from his past, turning up on his doorstep just as the rain starts to fall. Greg claims he’s just in Miami on vacation, but since when did a guy carry a loaded Magnum on vacation? To say nothing of his swordsmanship…
Things heat up as the storm bears down, but Daniel and Greg need to get out of Miami before it’s too late. What neither of them realise is the rightful owner of the diamond is not the only man looking to get it back. In this game of international cat and mouse, no-one is taking any prisoners. And Daniel finds out that he might just be a pawn in the most dangerous game of all — love.
YAY! Where do I pick up my 500 million points?
Redeemable at any frozen food stand. If you haven’t already, please title this masterwork.
Uncut! LOL! I made a diamond/penis joke!
Haha! High five. Hey, who gets the rights to this idea? ’Cause I kinda want to write it.
Last—and most random—question: If you could be any celebrity for a day, who would you be and why?
I would be the Queen. How weird would that be? Every day people show you hospitals and ships and ask you to cut ribbons and dig little holes, and smile for the cameras. I wonder if she thinks that’s what the world is. It would be totally surreal.
Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. Best of luck with your current projects!
Thank you so much! Is this where I mention I’m currently working on a novella for Riptide Publishing? I get to invoke my inner history nerd, because this one is set in Ancient Rome. It’s the story of two very different men who have one thing in common — they both want to kill the emperor Nero.
I can’t wait to tell you more about it!
I can’t wait to hear more about it! You heard it here first, folks—unless you already heard it on her website—Lisa Henry is treating us to love and intrigue Ancient Rome style in her upcoming toga-ripper, He Is Worthy. Congrats, Lisa!
Do togas get ripped? Tell me togas get ripped.
Hmm…not much toga ripping, but I like to think I’ve made up for that with a scene in a bathhouse. Oh yes. A Roman bathhouse.