Over to you, Christopher...
How did you get started writing?
My parents tell me I actually started writing before I was literate. It’s true! Before you start thinking I was some kind of wunderkind, by ‘writing’ they mean I was filling notebooks with the loopy spirals the preliterate think cursive looks like.
I suppose writing really become a serious preoccupation in high school and college, when I realized that all these daydreams I had usually involved the same characters and were often continuations of previous daydreams, and if I were systematic about it I might be able to make a buck or three of them some day. I started carrying a notebook dedicated to writing as an undergraduate in college. Boring lecture? Out came the notebook.
Was there a particular author or book that made you decide you wanted to write in the genre? If so, who or what was it?
Urban and LaRoux’s Caught Running also caught and held me fast until I knew how it ended. I actually read it at work because I just had to know. ZA Maxfield’s Cross Borders and Isabelle Rowan’s A Note In the Margins were two books that showed me how this genre could also be good literature, too. I won’t claim my writing is their equal, but it’s what I aspire to.
There were a few books, books I only finished because I’m a stubborn soul, that made me think, “Is that all
the higher the bar is? I can do that.” But we won’t dwell on those.
Where do you write? Does your environment have an impact on what or how you write?
I write either at a local coffee shop or at home curled up in bed. Sometimes I have to be out and about, and other times it’s the biggest impediment I know of to creativity. I haven’t been able to figure out what determines it, either, but I do think my environment make a big difference. If the place I’m writing is too cluttered or distracting (both terms variously defined), it makes me feel uneasy and so it’s hard to write. But really, the biggest distractions are also on my laptop, so it requires discipline. All of this said, I’m the at-home parent, so between my laptop and my iPad I write anywhere and everywhere.
What do you love most about writing? What do you hate about it?
I am extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love most, and that’s work with the people, dialogue, and worlds in my imagination. Without getting all mystical and airy-fairy, this really is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
What I hate about writing is the gnawing self-doubt that seems to accompany it. Okay, they liked the first book and it received some pretty good reviews…what if the follow-up doesn’t measure up? What if I’m just a flash in the pan, one good book and then poof! nothing worth reading? Even while writing Tipping the Balance, which I had a sense was a better book than Rocking the Boat, I worried that it was in fact utter garbage.
Oddly enough, despite my extreme introversion, the isolation that can accompany the writing life really gets to me. Even introverts get a little strange if they’re not around people often enough.
How did you come up with the title?
The title refers to the fact that Brad really does face a critical decision, and his choice will tip the balance of his life one way or the other.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Brad is your basic college jock/frat rat, with one difference—by the end of his senior year in college (the period covered by Rocking the Boat), he’d begun to develop feelings for another man, something that had never been on his radar, and those feelings are what led him to that critical decision.
Drew is an out and proud gay man who falls in love with Brad, and who triggered those feelings in Brad. Drew has to face the fact that for once in his life, he can’t control everything, including whether or not Brad can come to terms with those feelings.
How did you develop your plot and characters?
Photographic chemicals? Boy, did I just date myself. I set Brad and Drew’s story up at the end of the Rocking the Boat, so in some ways, the rough plot and the characters were pre-determined. But the rest of it? I’m still not sure where it came from, to be honest. I mean, home renovation? I guess it’s all that HGTV coming to the surface or something. But it really did just come from out of the blue. I really love it when that happens, by the way. It’s so invigorating.
What are you working on at the moment?
My current project, tentatively entitled The Answer To His Prayers, is a gay riff on one of my favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice. Miss Austen really hit on something fundamental about people and their relations to each other, and it applies very easily to the gay world…ten years or so ago in the pre-kid era, I noticed that my life resembled Jane Austen’s world. Life was a series of social engagements designed to find husbands and we all knew each other’s business. Both worlds seem fairly mild, or at least non-dangerous, but both are in fact tanks filled with piranhas. One wrong move in either Regency England or the modern gay world and you are (socially) dead. I’m having a great time with it, and I hope readers will, too.
To date, what has been the best advice or words of encouragement you've received?
Throw out your first million words. It hurts, but it’s so very necessary.
What are three things about you that would surprise your fans?
I have fans? *waves Me Me Me!*
Where can we find you on the web?
christopherkoehler.net/blog and on Twitter @christopherink
Tipping the Balance is published by Dreamspinner Press: e-book and paperback.
Blurb: The boys from ROCKING THE BOAT are back in TIPPING THE BALANCE. Nick Bedford’s best friend Drew St. Charles is a man with a dream. He wants to move from selling real estate and flipping houses on the side into renovating houses. Ideally, he’d find the houses and his boyfriend would flip them. He doesn’t have a boyfriend, but he still has his eye on Brad Sundstrom, who’s eyeing him right back. Brad works for his father’s construction firm, and when Drew wins a contest for new renovation firms to renovate the historic Bayard Mansion, they become the solution to each other’s problems. Drew needs someone to oversee the renovation and Brad wants out from under his father’s thumb more than anything. Brad knows the building trades and is working on his contractor’s license, and Drew offers him the job of project foreman.
Working in close contact makes the sparks between the two men burst into flame, and Brad takes his first hesitant steps out of the closet. Before long, spending the day together at work leads to nights spent together working hard in a different way. It looks as if Drew’s dream is coming true, although Brad is far from out, loud, and proud. But then Drew is savagely attacked in a hate crime, and Brad panics. Suddenly everything is in jeopardy, and when arson strikes the historic mansion, Brad faces a crucial test. Can he overcome his fears, save their work, and take his place at Drew’s side? Or will he retreat to the stifling familiarity of the closet?
He laughed out loud. He hadn’t made too big a fool of himself, not since he’d picked up the phone and called Drew in the first place. At first, he’d been so nervous he could barely speak. But he’d planned ahead, and he’d stuck to his script, pages arrayed before him on the desk. It was probably a little stilted, but it helped put his mind at ease.
And then Drew had asked him a question he hadn’t planned on, and Brad panicked. He’d never been one of those people who thought fast on his feet, and as nervous as he’d been, Brad froze.
Then he’d frantically rifled through his papers, trying to find something he could modify on the fly.
“Are you reading from a script?” Drew had chuckled.
“No,” Brad had said, letting his pages of scribbled conversation scatter as he dropped them on his desk. “No, what gives you that idea? Just busy... with paperwork.”
At the time, he’d been petrified, but there in the car, Brad thought it was pretty damned funny. Making a script to call someone, then getting caught at it and playing it off. He still wasn’t sure if he’d gotten away with it, only that Drew had let it go.
Drew was a class act, Brad could tell, a man more sophisticated and suave, if that was the word, than he’d ever be. He was a big lug, and he knew it. You could put him in a fancy suit and teach him to tie a Windsor knot and curl his pinky while drinking tea, and he’d still be a big lug yanking on his collar because it felt like it was strangling him.
Just the thought of himself all dressed up like that made him snicker. Brad, with his neck like a tree trunk and thighs to match. In a suit. Drinking tea.
But Drew.... Brad stopped laughing. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Drew the entire lunch. Every time he felt uncomfortable or even scared and started glancing around, the sight of Drew pulled him back.
“Fuck, he’s handsome,” Brad whispered. Drew was just average height, but Brad liked that better. He’d been around tall and rangy rowers for five years, and not one of them had ever caught his eye.
Drew’s brown hair sparkled in the sunlight when they stood in the parking lot to say goodbye. That was the word, sparkled. Maybe it was some gay super hair product or good genes or something. Brad had brown hair, at least what was left of it from where it was noticeably thinning on top. He just clipped it super short every other week and left it at that. But even when he’d had enough hair to style, it had never looked like Drew’s.
Blue eyes that danced when he smiled. That was just weird. Blue eyes usually bugged him. There was something off about them, the way they were different colors from ice blue to flat-out gray, but all still blue. His dad had blue eyes, and they’d never held a hint of warmth. But Drew’s... they looked so friendly, so inviting.
Muscles that showed, even through his business-casual clothes. Brad wasn’t cultured or sophisticated, which he imagined meant things like knowing about art or fancy food or... something. He didn’t know. That was him. But he knew muscles. He knew what time in the gym felt like, and what it looked like later, after you’d recovered and built the muscle. Drew had muscles.
Drew had earned his muscles the hard way too. Brad had never juiced. He knew people who had, people who’d done Deca and then Clomid to keep their balls from shrinking. He could always tell. The thought made him curl his lip in contempt. Juicing was cheating. That was for pussies, pussies and....
Brad had forgotten that Drew was a homo, that it was another man whose appearances he was so hung up on. But damn, those pecs alone, hidden behind Drew’s dress shirt, they’d taken a lot of time to sculpt like that. A lot of guys just did the bench press for their pecs and left it that, but it took a lot more than that. It took time with the incline press, the dumbbell flies, pull-ups.... No, those muscles made Drew look like a man, not just someone who was male. Maybe that was it. There was something manly about Drew.
Was it gay to appreciate another man’s masculinity? Brad shook his head. It couldn’t be. It was just acknowledging all Drew’s hard work in the gym, that was all.
But even if that was the case, that he just appreciated Drew’s efforts in the one area he happened to know something about, Brad was forced to admit that there was more to it than that.
Brad shifted uncomfortably as he drove. He’d boned right up as soon as Drew got out of his car. He was just glad Drew had gone into the restaurant ahead of him so he couldn’t see the wood Brad had been pushing. But he’d been hard for the entire lunch, balls so tight they ached.
That was totally gay, and Brad knew it. That pissed him off. It scared him. That wasn’t who he was.
Was it? That wasn’t who he wanted to be. But what if he secretly did? “Damnit it!” Brad yelled, bellowed, as he pounded the steering wheel in frustration. “I’m not gay!
Christopher has long had what his mother refers to as an incestuous relationship with books (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) since he learned to read, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he was supposed to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encourage that tendency and the writing both, especially his long-suffering husband.
He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.