Friday, January 18, 2013

Interview with L.J. LaBarthe

I am so pleased to welcome one of my very favorite m/m authors onto my blog today!

L.J. LaBarthe is an Australian writer living with her cat, Castiel, in beautiful South Australia. She is known to her friends as Star.  L.J.'s publications include an essay written for the now-defunct Veinglory publication produced by Emily Veinglory, in the 2003 issue and a short story for the 2004 issue. A research paper on medieval women that L.J. wrote has been used extensively as a reference and guide for other writers, and is referenced at 'All About Romance Novels' in their 'Ask An Historian' section and as other places dedicated to medieval women's history.

With regard her fiction, L.J. has been published by Dreamspinner Press, Noble Romance Press, Freaky Fountain Press and Less Than Three Press. L.J. can be found primarily at her blog, wherein she talks about anything and everything, related and unrelated to books and writing. She can also be found tweeting merrily on her Twitter and on Goodreads.
To jump right in when did you start writing and what attracted you to M/M fiction?

My mum tells me that I was always writing little stories to go with my drawings when I was a kid. I remember that when I was six, I did a drawing of Humpty Dumpty wearing an Aussie hat – like a cowboy hat, with corks hanging from strings around the brim to keep the flies away – and a little story about that for a competition. I won that competition, and the trip was a week long holiday to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. I have fond memories (and hilarious photos) from that holiday, it was a really great learning experience for me.

After that, I pretty much wrote whatever took my fancy. I had a period in my senior high school years of writing long, angsty, strange poetry, which makes me wince when I look at them now. I am not a poet! I wrote a few pieces for my final year yearbook, and a couple of things for my university student newspaper, too. The longest running thing I wrote in my teens was a fanzine, wherein I reviewed bands and did interviews with them. The bands were all local bands, and some of them are still playing gigs and recording albums to this day.

There was also a magazine called "Australian Woman's Forum" which was basically "Hustler" for women – and full of fiction, articles and photos. So, I thought I'd try my hand at something of a more erotic nature. It was terrible and thankfully, it no longer exists. But AWF was really my first experience with graphic erotica, both as a reader and a writer, and I found the process of writing a believable, erotic story extremely challenging. And I do like a challenge! So I dabbled a bit, read a LOT, and learned as much as I could.

I started writing fiction more seriously when I got the internet and discovered the wonders of online fiction communities, from Livejournal to mailing lists to fan sites. I read a lot, and late one night, after a long conversation with one of my friends, I thought, well, why not give this writing thing a go and see what happens? I wrote a long epic with another friend, which was something we wrote for ourselves, and she's an enormously talented writer, I learned a lot from her. We did that over the course of two or three years, if I remember rightly. Then I discovered NaNoWriMo, and thought, a novel in a month, eh? Well, why not. It's a challenge, and as I said, I like those.

What is your favorite genre or genres to write in and why?

I basically like to write what I read. So, as I read predominantly fantasy, paranormal and historical, that's what I write. I do write the occasional contemporary, when the muse decides that's what he wants.

I guess because that's my primary reading material and has been for years, that I feel most comfortable in those genres. Part of my degree was ancient and medieval history and I did living history re-enactment for some years, so I read a lot of history texts and those led to history novels.

So as you know I am a huge fan of your Archangel Chronicles. What inspired you to write that series?

First of all, thank you SO much for that, I really am thrilled and honored that you like the books so much. The characters mean a lot to me, and manage to surprise me on so many occasions. I'm so glad you enjoy the story of their journeys and experiences.

Before I wrote "No Quarter," I had written a story for NaNo, which has not and will not see the light of day. There's reasons for that, but to make a long story short, I intend to take some of those ideas and pop them into a different, better book, unrelated to the Archangels. That first book, though, gave me the impetus to really write a long piece, a novel length piece, and that became "No Quarter." I spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas and situations, and using the role play game setting, I became more and more comfortable with Gabriel's voice. I actually found the process of RP'ing him invaluable as a writing tool, it really gave me a great insight into his character and personality. So I wrote "No Quarter" and I was halfway through it, when I had the idea for the sequel, "No Surrender, No Retreat." A few pages into that, and bam, the idea of what would be "No Shadows Fall" came into my head.

The next three novels I have planned expand a lot on what we've already experienced with the Archangels and their friends, loved ones and allies. The subjects that I cover in the books, the religious motifs and scriptural mythologies are things that personally I have been interested in for some years. There's also a stanza from "Paradise Lost" by John Milton, which is one of Raphael's conversations with Adam. Now, I'm sure it's open to many interpretations, but to me, it reads like Raph is saying that yes, angels do have sex and it's pretty awesome, so there. I remembered this when I was working on "No Quarter," because there seems to be so many books out there which are angel/human and not many that are angel/angel. I have no idea why not – but I can't see why an angel wouldn't want to be with another angel just as much as a human or shifter.

The stanza in question is:

To whom the Angel with a smile that glow'd
Celestial rosie red, Loves proper hue,
Answer'd. 'Let it suffice thee that thou know'st
Us happie, and without Love no happiness.
Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence, and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joynt, or limb, exclusive barrs:
Easier then Air with Air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, Union of Pure with Pure
Desiring; nor restrain'd conveyance need
As Flesh to mix with Flesh, or Soul with Soul.'

(Book 8, "Paradise Lost," lines 618-625. John Milton.)

So a big thing for me was the desire to write a romance between two angels, especially when they're both pretty equal in powers and abilities as well as age and life experiences. Who's really the alpha when they're both pretty alpha? That sort of thing. 

What is something, a setting, genre, character type or trope you've never written before but would love to try?

Science Fiction. I love reading it, watching TV shows or films in that genre, but I am hopeless when it comes to writing it.

What has been your favorite writing project so far?

The Archangel books, for sure. The sequel to my tiny short story, "City of Gold." The novel, "City of Jade", is in the beta stages, and I'm hoping to get that submitted sometime this month. This one means a lot to me, it's been a real labor of love and I've learned SO much doing the research for it. I have a few things I want to do before launching into the sequel to that, which will be "City of Saffron" and set on the Silk Road into India. Which is all I'm saying on that one for now, I need to research first! "City of Jade" is set in 1141-1142, along the Silk Road from Constantinople to just past Hangzhou. Gallienus of Constantinople and Misahuen of Gyeongju were and are such a joy to write, I can see myself revisiting their lives in the future, for short stories or similar. 


I have a notebook that's full of ideas, and there's a few of those that I'm quite excited to start writing, but the Archangels and the CoG books are definitely the closest to my heart thus far.

Turns out asides from writing you and I share a love of history as well. So what is your favorite historical period to study and why?

Ooh. How long do you have? LOL! Probably best if I itemize this.

1. The Third Crusade and the period of 1150-1250AD.
This was the period in history that I did living history reenactment in. I found the history of the Third Crusade fascinating, the constructions of the Crusaders and Saracens in the Holy Land are some of the most beautiful in the world. Krak de Chevalier in Syria, Famagusta in Cyprus (and now, a large chunk of it and Varosha are closed off, forbidden to enter. It's a city frozen in time, abandoned, except for the Turkish patrols who keep people out. Mostly.) The Hospitaller fort of Belvoir, in Israel, is incredible. And the personalities of the famous men and women of that time, the politics, the chronicles, the food… there is so much in this period that is just fascinating – and tragic.

2. Late Byzantium.
My interest in Byzantium was piqued by a documentary that was done by John Romer, called "Byzantium: The Lost Empire." And the Hagia Sophia. What an amazing building that is. I took a class in Early Byzantium at university and that was absolutely fascinating. Then I met some Byzantine re-enactors at a conference in 1999 and I was hooked. Byzantium is basically the Eastern Roman Empire and was called the Eastern Empire for a time before it was known as the Byzantine Empire. It's government and politics were essentially Roman-style, but the language, culture and society became more and more Greek over time. The late Empire sees the Crusades, the creation of the Varangian Guards, a group of Viking Rus warriors who served the Emperor as his elite warriors, like the Praetorians did in Rome. Plus, Constantinople was a major hub for the Silk Road and that's a fascinating area all by itself.

3. Arthurian Britain.
I've always loved the stories of King Arthur as a kid. When I got older, before I got really into re-enacting and the history part of my degree, I read more and more about the history and locations around the Arthurian legends. This is probably my longest historical love.

Finally, I also love the histories of Russia 1812-1989, Song Dynasty China, post-Korean war North Korea (try saying that really, really fast!), 11th-12th century Silk Road, and 1836-1955 Adelaide, South Australia (my hometown).

Yet another non-writing interest we share is cooking. What are your favorite things to cook right now?

Oh man, this is going to be the longest blog post ever! LOLOL! I get a lot of ideas and use recipes of chefs like Rick Stein, Luke Ngyuen, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and Vincent Gadan. So, I like a lot of Asian, Mediteranean and Middle Eastern flavors and chicken, fish, pastas, spice mixes, sweet things and breads. I really want a bread machine, actually. And a food processor.

The best salad dressing ever – seriously, this thing goes with just about anything you pour it on.
2 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 tablespoon honey
Chopped chives to taste.
Mix together, pour over anything, and voila! Deliciousness.

I love mint, I'm growing herbs at the moment, but mint is the best thing ever. That goes in tea, or in salads, or on roasts or anything, really. There's some delicious Moroccan recipes that call for loads of mint, and some of Rick Stein's and Luke Ngyuen's recipes use loads of it, and they're really amazing.

I love a good roast – lamb, beef, chicken – and potatoes.

I also like historical cooking, Byzantine food is fantastic, and a lot of medieval French cooking is really delicious. It's pretty much a case of I'll try anything twice. Once to taste and twice to make sure what I think of it! (There are, of course, exceptions. I won't eat beetroot, rhubarb or pears because I don't like them. I can't eat eggs, because of allergies, and there's a Byzantine sauce called murri, which is basically fermented, rotten fish. They can keep that.)

Cherry Pie. The Medieval Way.
From "Gode Cookery"; translation:
For to make Cherries, take cherries at the feast of Saint John the Baptist, & do away the stones. Grind them in a mortar, and after rub them well in a sieve so that the juice be well coming out; & do then in a pot and do there-in fair grease or butter & bread of wastel minced, & of sugar a good part, & a portion of wine. And when it is well cooked & dressed in dishes, stick there-in clove flowers & strew there-on sugar.
Fresh cherries - pits removed. (You could use canned or frozen cherries if fresh are out of season or too pricey).
Cherry juice - to use only if you don't get enough juice from the cherries themselves.
Butter - very soft or melted. Medieval butter was creamier than modern varieties.
Unseasoned bread crumbs or finely minced white bread - "wastel" bread was a very fine white bread.
Wine - a semi-sweet red or white. If alcohol is a problem, try using grape juice with a little red wine vinegar added.
Small pink flowers - for decoration only. Be sure to use something non-poisonous - candy flowers will work fine if nothing else is available.
Purée the cherries by either finely mashing or using a blender or food processor. Place in a large pot and add enough cherry juice to make a very wet mixture. Blend in butter and wine. Beat in bread, enough to thicken the cherries to a thick pudding-like consistency. Add sugar to taste - it should be sweet. Bring the cherries to a soft boil, then reduce heat and cook for several minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Place the pudding in serving dishes, decorate with the flowers, sprinkle sugar on top, then serve, with thickened cream. SO GOOD OMG.
HINT: take leftover pudding, place in a bread pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the top is slightly firm to the touch. Delicious!
(Source: I tweaked the recipe here a little.)

What are you working on right now and what can we expect from you next?

I'm putting the finishing touches onto "City of Jade," and I'm part way through a vampire short story to submit to Less Than Three Press for their vampire serial anthology. I want to write books five and six of the Archangels, which I've got the research and notes set up for, and I need to edit and fix up book four, too.

Coming out soon, March/April, is my short story "The Body on The Beach." This is a novella length story, set in Adelaide in 1920, and is a murder mystery. This is part of an anthology I put together called "Under the Southern Cross," the constellation that is featured on the Australian flag. This anthology features five authors: Isabelle Rowan, Meredith Shayne, RJ Astruc, Robyn Walker and myself, and is five Australian stories, different genres and styles. It's coming out with Dreamspinner Press, and I'm really proud of it and excited to see the finished product.

I also have a short in the LT3 rockstar serial anthology as well, but I'm not sure on the release date for that one. That's called "Capsicum Head" and is set in the 1989 in Adelaide, about a punk rock band and their experiences in playing gigs at home and interstate.

Finally the most important question of all: if you were a mythical creature what mythical creature would you be and why?

I was going to say dragon, but I'm really not fond of flying. So, I choose the blue tiger, also known as the Maltese tiger. Basically, it's a tiger, but it's blue. And who's going to argue with a tiger? They sleep a lot, eat lots of fresh meat, get to travel across the land, swim in gorgeous lakes, climb trees in ancient forests and, yep, all while being blue. 

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