LGBT Characters in Fiction – An Interview
You always hear that mythical story and it always happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. Writer works hard, self publishes, keeps sending out queries, and a publisher picks up their self published book. It’s the story authors have to tell themselves to keep going. I’m proud to say that I know someone it actually happened to.
John Wiley is the author of many fiction books but his most popular is, Rooftops, a novel about three friends, trying to navigate the pitfalls of young adulthood. This book is important because it not only focuses on typical, after college angst, but it also features a story line about a gay character. When I started working in bookselling, in the late 90’s, this would have been unheard of. I’m happy to see that the LGBT culture is getting more attention in publishing, thanks to authors like John.
Mr. Wiley is also smart about marketing his own intellectual property. He recently left his publisher and is now in control of his writing, once again. He was kind enough to take time away from his busy schedule to fill me in on what he’s working on now and help me understand more about a genre I know nothing about.
First off, congratulations. Your self published book was picked up by a mainstream publisher. That’s one of those Cinderella stories writers dream about. Can you tell me how that happened? What was the process?
I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in 2014, about six months after I self-published. The Workshop ended up not working out the way I had hoped, it was more for people writing comedy blogs and essays, neither of which being my strong suit. I ended up leaving the workshop discouraged, but remained in the Facebook group for the convention. A few months after it ended someone that attended made a Facebook post saying that her publisher was accepting submissions and that she was really happy with them. I submitted my first book, Rooftops, and they liked it, but were hesitant to publish it since I had already self-published it. If I had a sequel they would consider releasing both of them.
I had started a sequel at this point but wasn’t very far with it. Eventually I finished the sequel, submitted it for consideration, and both were accepted around May of 2015. Rooptops was republished in November of that year and the sequel was out in February of 2016.
For anyone who hasn’t read Rooftops, can you give me a synopsis? What is your favorite character in the book and why?
The general plot is about three close friends and what happens in their lives in the summer after they graduate college. Rhys and Erick move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams while Joey stays in Ohio with his girlfriend. Along the way they make new friends and experience new adventures. Just like everyone else, their lives don’t always work out how they expect, so a big theme in Rooftops is coping with life and not letting it control you. You always have the ability to turn a situation around into something positive.
My two favorite characters are Rhys and Cindy. While the book is fiction I included some of my life experiences into it, and Rhys just so happened to experience most of my experiences. He also inherited what is closest to my personality. He’s optimistic, never gives up, and always sees the good.
Cindy received another big part of my personality: sarcasm. I didn’t realize it until I heard the audiobook version and heard how the narrator read for her, but she’s a lot like Daria. My favorite part is watching the two of them interact. They’re yin and yang, and writing them together was always a joy.
Stephen King talks about how he has to write eight hours a day, no matter what. What is your process as a writer? Do you have a special room? How long did it take you to write Rooftops?
Rooftops started as a bit of a joke. I graduated college in May and my roommate was graduating in December of the same year, and we wanted to move away from small town Ohio. The beaches of sunny southern California seemed like the ideal location, especially when it was beginning to snow where we were living. While planning this move we started to talk about what we would do once we moved, and I started writing our adventures as a short story.
The move ended up never happening and the story started to gather dust on my computer. Five years later I rediscovered it and remembered how much I enjoyed working on it, so I tweaked it a bit and extended it into a full novel. So once I began to really work on it, it took about six months, but from the actual beginning, it took six years.
I wish I was able to write eight hours a day, especially now that I’ve gotten out of the habit. When working on Rooftops and Wake Me Up I would write a couple of hours a day after work, sometimes more if I was really on a roll. Wake Me Up was really hard for me to write, so after that was finished I took a break. My writing habit now is more of, writing whenever the mood strikes me, which hasn’t been too often.
As far as my process goes, I’m not a writer that maps my story out. I have a few key plot points that I know I’m going to hit, but as I write I just write and see where the characters take me.
How has this book been received? I saw some really good reviews on Goodreads.
So far everything has been really positive. I haven’t received a lot of reviews, but on Amazon for example, they’ve all been really nice. The biggest criticism I’ve received is that it’s written in the present tense, which most people aren’t used to. It just comes from me naturally for some reason. I’ve tried to write in the past before and it just didn’t feel right, so I’ve accepted that as part of my style and so far everyone seems OK with that.
Some reviewers have said that I really capture that feeling of how confusing the world is after you graduate college and you look to enter the “real world”.
I love that you have a Christmas version of Rooftops. It’s nice that readers can revisit those characters. Can you tell me about that novella?
The Christmas one is called Up On the Rooftops and it takes place in the November and December after Rooftops. I saw that LGBT author RJ Scott was publishing a Christmas anthology so I submitted a piece for it, focusing on Rhys and his boyfriend going shopping on Black Friday. That piece is honestly one of my favorite things I’ve written. I liked it so much that I expanded it into a collection of short stories visiting most of the Rooftops characters as they get ready for Christmas. I’m currently playing with the idea of combining Up On the Rooftops with Wake Me Up before I self-publish it. The Christmas book hasn’t been read very much and Wake Me Up was only available for about five months before I left my publisher, so I feel like if I’m going to combine them now is the time.
I’ve heard some people call LGBT books, “Queer Literature”. I’m nervous saying the word, “queer” because I’ve been told it has bad connotations. Is this word offensive? When is it appropriate to say?
I haven’t actually heard that term before, but I’m probably not as involved in that community as I should be. I’m still trying to figure out having a public image, which is obvious if you look at my Facebook page, it’s been pretty quiet over there. If I interacted with more authors that write in that genre I may have heard it before.
This being the first time I’m seeing that term; it bothers me a little bit. To me, “queer” doesn’t have positive feelings. I realize people try to “take words back” and make them positive again, but for me, I’ve basically only heard it as a negative. I’m not going to be offended if someone says it, especially if they don’t mean it negatively. It won’t be a word you hear being said though, unless you catch me lamenting over Queer Eye for the Straight Guy not being rebooted.
Don’t let that stop you from saying it, though. Just because it’s not my favorite word doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said. I’m sure I’ve said things that other people don’t appreciate, but I wouldn’t want to be censored, and I’m not going to do that to anyone.
What is the LGBT reader community like? Have they been supportive? What other LGBT books or authors would you recommend?
So, I never set out to write an LGBT book. I thought I was just writing about a group of friends where one of them happened to be gay. When I submitted it to the publisher, I didn’t even realize they focused on LGBT fiction at first. The community has been really supportive so far, especially when I worked on the Christmas anthology, Christmas Delights. RJ Scott is definitely my favorite LGBT author that I’ve read so far. Apart from being a good writer she’s a really nice lady. She was really supportive when I worked with her on the anthology and I really appreciated that she helped aspiring writers.
What advice can you give authors who feel trapped in self publishing?
Well I don’t want to say that self-publishing is a trap. I’m in the process of moving back to self-publishing after feeling trapped by a publisher. I wanted more control over my books and the way they were distributed. I have nothing bad to say about my former publisher, I just didn’t feel like it was a good fit for me.
Some people have a lot of success self-publishing, so it definitely shouldn’t be looked down on. Everyone considering self-publishing should read the article “How Amazon Saved My Life” by Jessica Park. The main thing with self-publishing is that you have to do all the work yourself. If you want people to buy your book, you need to make sure they know about it, and that’s not easy work.
I’m still going to submit my books to new publishers and explore if getting a literary agent would be a good idea for me. My only suggestion when doing this is to do your research. Make sure you and your publisher are both on the same page. If you want something in the contract, make sure it’s in the contract. Don’t be timid, you’re making them money. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a publisher. It’s a great time to self-publish.
When you were growing up, what were your favorite books and why?
The first book I remember reading and loving enough that I said it was one of my favorites was Finders Keepers by Emily Rodda. It was about a boy that got trapped in a computer game, and I thought it was such a great concept I was hooked as an elementary school student. From there I started reading Goosebumps, Welcome to Dead House was a favorite of mine. As an adult, my favorite books have been romantic comedies such as the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella and Talking to Addison by Jenny Colgan. As the world gets crazier I find comfort in reading a romantic comedy where you know it’s going to have a happy ending and you’ll enjoy a few laughs along the way. I also have to mention Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan. Not only does it have the romantic comedy elements that I love, it’s extremely quotable and the characters are relatable.
I hear that you recently met with your publisher. What are you working on now?
Since leaving my publisher I’m deciding my next move. I don’t want to self-publish everything right away and then find a publisher that likes my books but is unwilling to publish it since it’s been published before. I have one book finished that needs a lot of revision. It focuses on Tiffany, a minor character in Rooftops, who is now working for the Fashion Police. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’m excited because it’s a bit of a rom-com, which is my favorite genre to read (Confessions of a Shopaholic series is my absolute favorite), but has a touch of magic in it too. I’m also in the process of working on a book that I started in 2004, which actually serves as a prequel to Rooftops. I love what I have, but I work on it for a week and forget about it for months. My goal is to finish it by the end of the year, hopefully sooner.
Other than that I have the third Rooftops story that need to be told since Wake Me Up is quite open ended, so I definitely want it all tied up. Then there’s also a Spy novel that I started. So I definitely have a lot on my plate and I hope to start getting it out there again.
I love the Fashion Police so I look forward to that one! Thank you, John, for the interview. For everyone else, click on the social icons below, to follow John Wiley and learn more about his work.