Hi Brandon. Welcome and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on the site.
Rainbow Award winner BRANDON SHIRE is a distinct voice in contemporary gay fiction. He has been writing for 15 years and has only recently begun to publish his work. Genres include contemporary gay fiction, romance, horror, and science fiction.
10% of the proceeds from the sale of any of Brandon’s books are donated to LGBT Youth charities combating homelessness.
Before we start the interview, what would you like readers/fans to know about you and what is something about Brandon Shire that would surprise us?
I like to remodel houses in my free time. In between writing, work, and children (grown) I like to slip away and tear down walls, put in floors, and make a house a home. The work clears my head for the next project.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
That I’m a woman. Sorry to disappoint, but I am male. Why this keeps coming up, I honestly don’t know. In a day and age when we are fighting for LGBTQ rights across the planet I get idiotic questions in my email such as I want to know if you’re a woman b/c I only read gay fiction written by gay men. My usual response to this is Loser, look elsewhere. I don’t have time for your ignorance.
No. I just write. I enjoy it because it helps me relieve stress in a way that is productive. And, honestly, I like telling stories, so the two kind of go together.
Your novels are hard to categorize and maybe that’s a deliberate strategy on your part because you probably hate to be put in a box. 🙂 Your web site says that you write “contemporary gay fiction”. How would you describe the types of books you write, or is that even possible, given their diversity?
I’m definitely not a box person. 😀 I write from a gay male perspective about gay men, so I would define that as contemporary gay fiction. I’m not for everyone and that is about the only part of my writing that is deliberate. I make no bones about that and offer no apologies. I really love to see readers enjoying the books, and I try to learn from those that hate them, but neither view sways my writing style too much.
Your books are completely different from others in the M/M genre because most of them are not romances, yet romance readers seem to find them hard to resist. How do you account for your books having such a large following among romance readers, despite most of them having no HEA?
Honestly, I don’t know. I was as surprised as anyone else. My guess would be that I think m/m readers are looking for something different. Just as many of them left het romance because of boredom, they’re drifting into more non-formulaic reads to satisfy themselves. I don’t read much romance myself, and as I’ve said elsewhere, life is often not HEA, as much as we would like it to be. I think readers might be connecting with my focus on characterization rather than story outcomes. My own view is that if you can connect a reader with the character, the storyline feels real, no matter the desired outcome.
What challenges you most in your writing?
Keeping myself motivated and interested enough in the characters to continue their story. If they can’t keep me interested I get bored quickly and move on to something else. I have an absolute ton of unfinished manuscripts and shorts.
But then again, that’s the slush pile Afflicted came from, so maybe I just need to let the muse go where she wants and stop trying to keep her focused. 😀
Today you released Heart of Timber reviewed here, the sequel to Cold, a highly acclaimed book, reviewed here. What made you write a story about two men serving time in prison? How much research was involved and did you actually visit any prisons as part of this research? What would you like readers to know about Heart of Timber that’s not in the blurb?
I wanted something different with Cold, which is always my approach when looking at a new project. I’ll look around and see what others have done and look for a different angle. In the sub-genre of a prison romance I found three persistent themes: rape, brutality and a falsely accused person crying his innocence. I flipped those on their heads purposefully while still keeping the environment in perspective.
I do an immense amount of research on anything I write; Cold was no exception. I did visit a dorm style prison and also had prison guards and previous inmates as consultants. One consultant (now released) was serving a life sentence for murder, so a lot of what readers find in both Cold and HoT (Heart of Timber) is drawn from conversations about remorse, guilt, innocence and regret. Another consultant is a retired forester, and she was invaluable in helping me craft the psyche of Lem.
Not in the blurb: Everyone wants to know why Lem killed his brother. The answer is revealed in HoT.
Your books are not “fluff” pieces, something I admire, and your characters do not fit any I’ve read before. How did you to write such extraordinary characters as Hunter and Dillon in Afflicted reviewed here and Afflicted II? Hunter’s character is atypical of the blind MC in novels – he’s strong, aggressive (sometimes too aggressive, to compensate for his inability to see). He takes no prisoners and Dillon calls him his ninja. 😆 My first job was at an institute for blind students in Canada, which made me realize that being blind is not the dire affliction that sighted people think it is, and that blind people use their other senses to an extraordinary degree to compensate for their loss of sight. I cheered every time Hunter “kicked butt,” but why did you want to create a blind MC like him who isn’t stereotypical? (Not that your characters are stereotypes, in fact they are quite the reverse).
I started Afflicted after I read a blog that said that men couldn’t write appealing gay romance. I thought it was a load of BS and set out to prove it wrong. Again, I looked for something different to write about – characters that were out of the norm. I went through my notes and found a short that I had started and never finished. The Afflicted series was the result. (I’m considering Afflicted III now.)
I don’t like stereotypes of any sort. When I began my research into Hunter’s blindness I found that blind characters were, more often than not, portrayed as sniveling and dependent across nearly all forms of media. Portraying the blind as such still seems to be an acceptable form of blackface. So much so, that I couldn’t find a photo that portrayed blind people positively. I contacted Blind LGBT Pride International, advised them of my intent, and asked for their help. They were more than enthused at the idea and much of what you find within the series is based on real gay blind people and the situations they encounter on a daily basis, including Dillon’s black belt and his ability to kick ass.
Many of your books are tough to read, including Listening to Dust which won a Rainbow Award. You once said about this book that life is tough so it was necessary to illustrate that life does not always turn out how we want it to, sort of art imitating life. Stephen’s and Dustin’s story had such an impact on me that I still haven’t found the words to review it. As the author, how would you describe this book? Everyone I talked to who has read Listening to Dust has been profoundly impacted by this story and I’m sure it had even more of an effect on you. Can you describe your emotions while writing such an emotional, haunting and moving book?
Some stories just have to be told, no matter the emotional cost. We see a lot of barking in the media about homophobia, but we rarely see, or feel, the real emotional impact of it. Dust is devastating because it was meant to bridge the gap between a distant reading about homophobic hate and feeling its true pain.
Dust is the book I am most proud of, but the one that hurts the most too. I cried my eyes out when I typed the last paragraph and then dedicated it to a gay friend who was brutally murdered. It is my hope that someday, books like Dust will be works of complete fiction and not a reflection of society.
I read recently that you may be publishing a science fiction novel in the not too distant future. I started out reading science fiction as a teenager a long, long time ago 😎 and I have a strong passion for the genre that has never waned because I love exploring other worlds. If you do decide to release science fiction novels, how will your books differ from others in the genre on the market today? Will they focus on action adventures in space? Maybe time travel? OR Gay romance in space? 😆
I love sci-fi, always have. Like you, it’s the genre I grew up on. I have two complete novels saved on the PC and several more written in longhand. Both novels are set on different worlds and both include a host of characters, LGBT and not.
The first series The Queen of Behelm is a dystopian series about a kick-ass female gunslinger who takes on a female protégé who may be her replacement. She is a contract killer, possibly falling in love with her protégé, and much, much more beyond that.
The second series (unnamed) spans numerous worlds and involves a young prince who has lost his crown to the rebels who murdered his family. His planet has a deep, rich, and very long history, but he knows nothing about it. He is forced to learn about that history the hard way, and must eventually decide if he wants his crown back.
Both stories are complicated, so it is taking much more time to bring the books out. As I edit to bring about a more diverse set of LGBT characters, I’m finding the story getting more complex. Then there’s getting the science right and that is taking more research time than I expected.
I doubt you’ll see ‘gay romance in space’ coming from my pen anytime soon. 🙂
Changing the subject. You support LGBT youth charities financially, especially those relating to homeless youth, but we as a community of individuals aren’t doing even close to enough to make a dent in the problem that’s killing LGBT youth, that of parents kicking out their children from their homes when they find out they’re gay. The statistics about homeless youth in the U.S. are chilling, including the horrible fact that every day six gay teens will die, while the rest of the human race looks on. Tell us why this cause is so important to you and how can readers help?
It is important to me because these kids are our LGBT future, yet more of them will land in prison because of homelessness than become successful and productive citizens. It’s a ridiculous tragedy that most people would rather ignore the issue than face it, particularly within the LGBT community. Readers who want to get involved can contact their local LGBT center. I also have a growing list of LGBT youth centers on my website that would welcome your help. Or if readers choose, they can donate to any of the organizations listed on the site. Every penny counts. It takes as little as $10 to take a kid off the street for a day and give him/her food, shelter and safety from sexual predators.
This site has posted many articles over the years about suicides among gay teens because of bullying, and despite recent measures by governments to provide real penalties as deterrents against bullies, bullying seems to be on the rise. Do you think we (collectively) are doing enough to help kids who are being bullied in schools and through social media, which results in many of them taking their own lives? I know you’re not an expert in this area, but do you have any thoughts about how we can make inroads into mitigating or even alleviating this problem in the not too distant future? Obviously this issue is different from that of homeless youth, but it’s something that’s killing LGBT youth at an alarming rate.
It’s not that different from LGBT homelessness at all. It’s a major factor in the problem of homelessness. Many homeless LGBT teens are running from bullying at home and school. Another disturbing fact, homeless LGBT teens are 62% more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
I honestly do not have an answer for this. I wish I did. I think one of the biggest lies we can help dispel as adults is that bullying is a ‘right of passage.’ There will always be a social pecking order, but harassing a person to the point of suicide goes well beyond that and it’s time to address that particular lie.
We humans don’t get a do-over of our lives, but if you were able to somehow get one, would you still choose to write, something that started out as a hobby but has evolved to the point that now you have become highly regarded as an author? If not writing, what other field attracts you?
I’ve become highly regarded? That’s scary! 😯 I would say I’m a decent storyteller; there are many writers much better than me out there. And, as far as I’m concerned, writing is still a hobby and will continue to be. (Unless a publisher reading this wants to slap down a fat check.) I have a full time job, but if I could change things…maybe I would consider music, which is also a passion.
One of the reasons I love your writing is that you appeal to your readers’ intelligence, you don’t offer platitudes and patented manufactured HEAs, and the readers love it. Now that you have written a couple of romances in Afflicted and Heart of Timber, are you going to continue writing romances, albeit with a distinctly rough edge?
Honestly, I’m getting a little bored with romance. I have many more romance stories in mind but I need to pull back for a while. From my view, my characters are starting to sound the same, and I don’t like it. But for those romance fans that stick with me while I wander elsewhere, I have three new books that are currently percolating with the muse:
A romance set in Croatia between two musicians. The story will be set against the deep animosities that have torn the region over the centuries and left its mark on modern society. (This is already in research mode.)
A ‘young love’ story with one of the MCs who has an N Parent* and all the hardships that deal with growing up in such a household. Toss in a burgeoning gay attraction and we’ll see what falls onto the paper. (*Narcissistic Personality Disorder).
The story of a complete bastard who breaks all the ‘requirements’ of m/m romance writing. One of those characters you absolutely hate, but love to hate even more.
The Value of Rain, your debut novel, is still in my TBR file because I don’t yet have the courage to read a story with the theme of a 14 year old teen confined to a mental hospital to “cure” him of being gay when he is discovered with another boy, and his journey to who he became as an adult. What made you decide to write this story?
I wrote Rain many years ago, after a Zen retreat based on the exercise of ‘active listening’. During that time I listened to several men recount their horrors at the hands of people who were going to ‘cure’ them of being gay. It was horrific. It changed me and I had to write about it. The book is completely fictional but based on what they went through – the anger they still carried and the self destruction that still played a major part in their lives. It is not an easy story, and anyone with abuse triggers should avoid it.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment, so far?
The amount of money and awareness my fans have helped raise on the issue of LGBT youth homelessness. They have been awesome in that regard.
You have been the champion for this cause Brandon and your fans follow your lead.
I would love to continue this interview because I have so many more questions, 🙂 but I know that your time is limited, so I’ll close by thanking you for taking the time to be interviewed on the site.
Thanks for the opportunity. It was a great pleasure.