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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: KATRINA STRAUSS



Katrina Strauss: Queen of Yaoi Fiction
Author Interview by A.J. Llewellyn


1. Katrina, thanks so much for stopping by the Divas’ Den. As you know, I am a big fan of your Blue Ruin series and your wonderful heroes Derek and Blue. Congrats on the release of Book Three – Chains of Love - by the way! My first question would be this. You wrote what I think is the definitive article on what Yaoi fiction is. How did you first discover it and who are your favorite authors in the genre?

Why thank you, AJ! I’m a bit partial to Derek and Blue myself, even if they’ve sort of taken over my life this past year! I don’t claim my definition of “yaoi” to be the explanation to end all explanations, though my article hopefully provides enough basics to give newcomers to the genre a better grasp on just what they’ve gotten themselves into. But then describing yaoi is like trying to define goth (another subculture I was once heavily involved with) – not all the music sounds alike, and yes, black clothes come in more than one shade!

I’d heard of yaoi in passing for several years, as I’ve been a fan of anime since the late 80’s. It didn’t really click for me, though, until about two years ago. I recognized quite a few themes in the genre that I’d already enjoyed reading and writing in het romance, only the scenarios were even hotter when played out between two beautiful men! I’m very picky, though, and spent a few months sifting through the riff-raff for what I personally consider the cream o’the crop. In doing so, I discovered some works that just blew me away.
The fact that these daring, envelope-pushing stories are written – and illustrated! – by women from a country that, for all its modern advancements, still casts females in a more “traditional” light, only added to my admiration. My keepers have proved to be Yamane Ayano, Miyamoto Kano, Tori Maia, Haruka Minami, and Lee Young Hee. I’ve enjoyed random selections and “one shots” from other mangaka, like Nekota Yonezoh, Toujoh Asami, and Kazusa Takashima to name a few, but those first five are the ones who produce stories I consistently enjoy and have borne the strongest influence on my own work.


2.Am I correct in thinking it is primarily women who read and write Yaoi fiction?

As with “m/m romance” and “slash”, yaoi is indeed a female-dominated genre on both the supply and demand end. I do have gay male readers, however, and have come across several gay or bisexual men who enjoy the genre over the Net. With that being said, I have personally observed a bit of a generational divide, with the majority of gay male yaoi readers falling into their late teens/early twenties, while “mostly straight” female yaoi fans range from ages 15 to 55.

3. You describe your books as “Hard Yaoi” I guess in reference to BDSM. Is this something you enjoy in your own life or is it all fantasy for fiction?

Believe it or not, not all yaoi is graphic or depicts acrobatic sex, so the term “hard yaoi” denotes explicit, no-holds-barred sex that may include edgy elements like forced seduction, rough sex, and/or BDSM elements. While the stuff I tend to read often contains bondage or D/s elements, outright BDSM yaoi is a rather rare and precious find. (Yamane Ayano’s Viewfinder is a good example – some beautiful BDSM activity going on, yet I wouldn’t classify the series strictly as such.) Though there are a few purely BDSM yaoi manga (like Tori Maia’s leather dungeon fantasy “Palace of Stars/Hoshi no Yakata”), that theme is more likely to turn up in fan-drawn “doujinshi” featuring other people’s characters than in original works.

I’ve seen BDSM turn up more on the “Western prose” side of the fence than in the illustrated Japanese medium. In my case, yes, “hard” means bring on the handcuffs, riding crop, and pain play! I’ve explored BDSM in my het and ménage stories as well, so the “hard” part of the equation is familiar territory for me. I’ve enjoyed these elements in other authors’ work, from Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy, to the aforementioned Tori Maia series.
As for my personal life, I’ve explored various facets of the BDSM lifestyle over the years, though my characters have delved into the more intense and dark aspects of it than I ever would. For instance, I can’t say that I’ve been taken prisoner and locked in a dungeon for a year out of my life, as was the case with my heroine in my first “mostly het” novel, and I certainly don’t condone that scenario in real life! But on the written page within the realm of creative, erotic fantasy? Anything goes.

4. Do you ever encounter animosity from men because you write M/M fiction?

Personally, I haven’t. *knocks on wood* (Hmm, maybe “wood” is a bad choice of words in the context of this discussion?) I have heard from a few male readers, actually, who have enjoyed the Blue Ruin series and asked for more! On the other hand, I received disparaging comments from female readers back when I wrote BDSM het for placing my heroines in what they interpreted to be “abusive” situations. So there’s no pleasing every reader, no matter the genre or sexual orientation, particularly when you like to cross lines like I do.

5. I just ran a check of your name on Who Would Be Your Celebrity Cell Mate and Guess who it is??? I just know you’re over the moon to discover it’s Wacko Jacko! Now…he could be an interesting cover model for the dungeon master if you think about it…in Book 4…no? Anyway my question is this. Describe for me in one para what sexual favor you would perform for him in order to get early release.
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Oh man, isn’t that his mug shot? Okay, I’m straying off-topic, but it makes me sad that Michael Jackson is this boogey-man-hiding-under-the-bed joke to my kids. I grew up on Michael Jackson’s music – hell my generation grew up *with* him – and there was a time when it didn’t get any hotter than albums like Off the Wall or Thriller. Okay, so maybe I’m really just evading your question! I ’m not sure I’d be Mr. Jackson’s type. Though if he was game, I’d perform the “Thriller” dance routine for him in the buff. I’d get early release, while poor Michael would probably get out on medical release.

6. I don’t know…I’ve seen your photo. I might be a gay man but I still know a HOT mama when I see one. So tell me, you go any secret celeb crushes going? Still trying to get over the idea of you doing “Thriller” nekked…tickles me, actually.

Aw shucks! You’re talking about “the blonde pic”, I think? That one’s a couple of years and three red dye jobs outdated!
I’m not so secret about my celeb crushes, and often post eye candy pic spam of the hotties who inspire my characters. My current muses seem to be Ville Valo (lead singer of HIM) and Mitch Hewer who played Maxxie on BBC series Skins. Valo’s Byron-esque persona has aided me in portraying not one but two dark, brooding characters, while Hewer’s lighter, spunkier image has inspired the hot and fiesty blond in my latest WIP.

7.Tell me about your hubby…how did you two meet and do you dance any routines at all for him au naturel??

Well, I try not to go into too much detail about the family outside of writing-related questions, but I will say that he’s a “real life bishie” (my term for beautiful men who look like they stepped out of a manga), and we met over the Net ten years ago in a gothic chat room. How modern of us, no? As for dancing in the buff, the closest the hubby gets to that is the random Pilates routine that I do in my PJ’s. (Though I’ve thought about taking up belly dancing to get my “writer’s spread” butt into shape!)


8. What’s next for Derek and Blue? Any upcoming books??

I have two more books outlined in the Blue Ruin series, and hope to have them completed and released during the first half of 2009. Derek and Blue will continue to experience ups and downs while exploring new sexual territory. Book four will find Blue in the midst of a murder investigation after he recruits an unusual new friend to help the police. Books 4 and 5 will also see Blue and his best friend Jodi thrust into a wider (and wilder) social circle, while Blue also deals with the fallout over a public scandal with his high-profile father.
Meanwhile, the ever-responsible Derek deals with issues like job stress, his boyfriend-turned-clubkid, and his eccentric mother barging back into his life. As always, the series will show how Derek and Blue deal with situations both internal and external as they continue to live, love, and learn together. As Blue Ruin wraps up, I have two offshoot series in mind, with Derek and Blue perhaps making guest appearances, but we’ll see.

9.I know you are a mother. We talked briefly about your husband, but how do he and the kids feel about your M/M stories?

Well, my teenage daughter reads yaoi and slash! In fact, she got into yaoi before I did, though she’s more on the fandom side of things. My rule is that she can’t read Mom’s work, and she says she doesn’t want to go there anyway! Though we do discuss the basic, non-sexual plot elements of all my stories, as she is a budding writer herself and fascinated by the craft. As for my teenage son (the eldest), he isn’t too sure about his mother writing “porn” depicting any sexual orientation, and jokingly calls me a “pervert” when I mention new story ideas, yet he also high fives me whenever I get a new acceptance or the royalty checks come in. (Then again, he knows some of that money gets spent on him! LOL)
My youngest, the 6-year-old, knows Mommy writes “stories for grownups” but is otherwise pretty insulated from what I do right now. As for my spouse, I think he’s more comfortable with me writing M/M than he was with me writing het, but then he’s become more open and supportive of my chosen genre of “erotic romance” in general as my career has progressed and he’s witnessed how seriously I take my craft.

10. How interesting! Why do you say he’s more comfortable with you writing M/M? And has he read any?

In explaining the writing process to my more left-brained spouse, I’ve tossed out the old adage that we writers “write what we know.” So when I first started writing erotic romance, the concern was expressed on his part that I might detail our personal, intimate sexual relationship on paper for all the world to see. Of course, that is not the case, but I’ve talked with *several* erotic romance writers whose partners have expressed similar reservations, so this sort of comes with the territory in this genre.
There’s also this misperception in general that women who write M/M romance are somehow “detached” from what we write, which of course is not the case either, but I think my spouse finds some comfort in that thinking. Though what’s interesting – and I’ve told him this – is that of any couple I’ve thrown together on the written page, Derek and Blue’s dynamic *outside* of the bedroom reflects that of mine and my husband’s more closely than any het couple I’ve crafted! As for reading tastes, the spouse is not too keen on erotic romance, but then I’m not too keen on reading his g33k-related stuff (yes, that aspect of Derek would be inspired by the spouse) so it’s all good.

11. I know you live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona with your family. Are you an outdoors gal and what is life like in the high desert?

What? I’m a writer. I don’t go outside! LOL Actually no, I do love the outdoors. I’m not really the “sporting” type, though I’ve gone tent camping up in Utah recently and enjoyed a much-needed break from gadgets and the Internet. The Sonoran is the most lush and biologically-diverse desert in North America, filled with colorful flora and fauna, and not at all barren like some folks might imagine.
The Phoenix metro area sits in a valley surrounded on all sides by mountains seen from all directions, even over the rooftops of all the suburban and ex-urban development. Yes, it gets hot here, but as they say, it’s a “dry heat”, with much less humidity and mosquitoes than my native Texas! With all this being said, I’m moving in a few weeks to the outskirts of St. Louis! Though Missouri is a beautiful state, with family just a few hours away in the equally gorgeous Arkansas Ozarks.

12.I’ll take your word for it, doll. I’m an island guy myself… Do you have a day job as well as well as your family obligations? Does your hectic schedule give you much time to write or is it a battle to carve this time for yourself?

I’ve been doing the at-home mom gig since my youngest was born, which has given me the opportunity to plunge headlong into my lifelong love of writing and build an actual career on it. My days in the corporate world while raising my two older children at least taught me to be flexible. I try to get my writing done during the late morning and early afternoon, allowing me to more effectively juggle household concerns, homeschooled teens, drop-off and pick-up of the youngest who is in public school, making time for the spouse, etc.
I try to avoid writing during the evenings and on weekends, but have learned not to feel guilty when I *do* because I have a deadline to meet, multiple projects, or the Muse simply will not let up. Basically, I take it as it comes. Some days, I don’t get one word written. Other days, I’m on fire. Some nights, my family eats home-cooked meals from scratch. Others, particularly if I’m neck-deep in edits, we order delivery. The kids usually don’t complain about pizza or Chinese, and they know they can come knock on the door anytime they need me.

13. Are you more like Blue or Derek?

I’m more like Blue, but I like Derek better. In other words, I’m a brat with a thing for Alpha males. Only my hair is red instead of blue. ;)

14. Any genre you haven’t written that you want to?

After penning a couple of “speculative fiction” pieces with steampunk elements, I’d love to write an all-out steampunk novel. I’ll have to wait until I can devote my full energies and focus to the intricate worldbuilding required to pull it off. Of course, all my stories require worldbuilding, even the contemporary pieces, but my vision for the grand steampunk epic might necessitate a two-year cabin stay on a remote mountaintop!


15. As a kid growing up, what was your most cherished toy?

When I was born, one of my great-aunts made me this square-cut stuffed dog out of colorful polyester scraps. How 70’s, eh? When I was little, I called him “Tai Koo”… not sure where I even came up with that one but looking back, I think it fit! He was shaped so that you could use him like a pillow, though of course I’d end up with those “polyester waffles” on my face that was the bane of any 70’s kid who fell asleep against their pantsuit-wearing mother’s arm.
By my 80’s adolescence, Tai Koo had become part of that obligatory stuffed animal collection that teenage girls keep even after they get rid of the other toys. Tai Koo found himself on proud display alongside the Duran Duran posters and Anne Rice books. Interestingly, his “square Scotty dog” shape called to mind the Keith Haring doggies that were all the rage at that point, so I guess my great-aunt was ahead of her time? Tai Koo had also come to fit my funky “thrift store bohemian goth punk” style I had going back then.
I redubbed him “Tai Koo the Polyester Patchwork Wonder Pup”, while he proved rather popular with my stoner friends, strangely enough…
Enter the 90’s, motherhood, and the return of polyester but with a sleeker feel to it. (Yes, what a surreal moment of “déjà vu” -- shopping for black polyester bellbottoms to wear with my new clunky heels that had also come back en vogue, my mother’s voice saying “I told you so” in the back of my head after I’d once declared I’d never be caught dead in such attire.) I ended up bequeathing Tai Koo to my firstborn son, then by default he ended up in my daughter’s stuffed animal collection. He finally fell apart somewhere along the way and is no longer with us, but I’ll always fondly remember Tai Koo and his fabulous polyester style.

16. Do you encourage your kids to write and what would be your biggest wish for them?

My eldest son is more of an artist than writer, so I encourage him to express himself by painting, drawing, and sculpting, all of which he’s amazing at. My daughter’s storytelling abilities have been evident since even before she learned to write, and she’s had WIP’s going since penning her first full-length, multi-chaptered novella at age eight. (Though I’m not allowed to read the slash; she has the same rule about her dirty stories that I do about mine! LOL)
The youngest seems to be our budding horror author. He loves to tell scary stories, and recently wrote and illustrated a short story about zombies after I showed him the old “fold a thin stack of paper in half to make a book” trick. What’s great was after he finished the zombie book, he jumped out of bed first thing the next morning, grabbed a pencil, opened the book, and changed one of the periods to an exclamation point. As he put it, “I decided that sentence needs more emphasis.” I told him congratulations, he’d just edited his first story!
My biggest wish for my children is for them to be happy in all that they do, whatever they do.

On behalf of the Dark Diva Reviews team, I would like to thank the divine Ms. Strauss for dropping by today...trying to shake the images of her dancing "Thriller" froom the brain - what a gal!
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her at:
www.katrinastrauss.com
www.myspace.com/katrina_strauss

6 comments:

JenB said...

What a great interview! I especially love the story about your son editing his work. Sooo cute!!!

MB (Leah) said...

What an interesting interview. I especially liked you telling your history wiht yaoi and why you write it.

Amy Lane said...

Awesome interview! I especially like how you deal with your family and your writing--my daughter wants to read my stories for the same reason--not the explicit sex but the plot/character development, and it's a hard call! (I'm not allowed to read her dirty stories either!)

Eliza Knight said...

Great interview! Thanks for introducing us to Katrina!

Desirée Lee said...

Katrina is an extremely imaginative author.

But... we knew that already.

Thanks for sharing these tidbits about your work and the person behind the characters.

Carpe Noctem,
Des

Desirée Lee
Putting the Romance Back in Necromancy
http://www.desireelee.com
des@desireelee.com

Sarah said...

Great interview and so interesting!

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