Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Author Interview: RUTH SIMS

Author Interview by A.J. Llewellyn

1. Hi Ruth and welcome to the Divas’ Den! I must say your book The Phoenix is very intriguing…a 19th century roué in Jack Rourke (son of a demon and a whore) who becomes Kit St. Denys. He finds love with Nick. Will we be seeing anymore stories involving them?

Hi, A.J. Thank you for the chance to fill every writer's wish, namely to talk about ourselves! I must say, you have an interesting set of questions. The questions are more interesting than the subject, I’m afraid.
Am I allowed to take mild issue with you on something? I would never describe Kit as a roué, defined as “a dissipated man; debauchee; rake”. To my mind, a roué is someone who’s pretty much a waste of space, useless, cynical, and corrupt from choice. Kit’s excesses are brought on by his attempts to deal with his past and by fears he can’t face. If he were truly a roué, he couldn’t possibly function as he does in the theatre. It’s only when the damaged child in him takes over that he loses it. That’s why steady, compassionate Nick was able to do what no one else could. And Kit also has a sweetness and generosity about him that no roué would be caught dead with. At least that’s how I saw him; perhaps I didn’t do a very good job of getting it across. And, of course, every reader interprets things differently.

Didn’t answer the question, did I? Short answer: I don’t know. Several people have requested a sequel. But the only story idea that came to me would be about 18 years after the end of The Phoenix, just after WWI, when Nick’s grown son, raised to hate him, would put in an appearance. The only scene that has been written was a confrontation between Nick’s son, Jamie, and Kit. Nobody has ever won an argument with an infuriated Kit.

2. What is it about the 19th century that inspired you to set your story there?

I like the late Victorian era because I’m lazy. It’s close enough to our own time that it’s easy to research and I feel at home there. It’s not so far back that I have to spend eons researching underwear, food, and footgear. And since it’s not contemporary I don’t have to contend with AIDS, cell phones, and Terrorist Attacks. I say “I feel at home there” facetiously, but in a way it’s true. One of my best friends is a Wiccan priestess who is adamant that I lived a prior life in the late 19th century and that’s why it feels natural. I think it's just that the only books I had when I was a kid were from the public library and I early on discovered Dickens, Hardy, Poe, Twain, London, the Brontes, etc.

3. Oscar Wilde has a minor part in your tale, not without reason being such a prominent figure there. How do you feel about the legendary gay bookstore named after him in NYC closing its doors?

I hate to see any independent bookstore close, but especially one that had such a historic link to gay history. I always thought Oscar would be proud to have a bookstore named after him. I’ve never been there, but I have read about it and seen pictures. But…in this economy I suppose we’re lucky that any independent bookstore stays afloat. All independent bookstores are struggling for their lives. I always urge my readers to buy from them if they’re lucky enough to have one in their town. We don’t. I either have to buy from the internet or not buy books at all. When I look at my teenage granddaughter and her friends texting every five seconds I wonder if the next generation will even read books, let alone go into a bookstore.

4. Since your stories seem so immersed in history, who are your favorite historical figures?

The two Alexanders: our Alexander Hamilton—I’ve been working on a book about him on and off since the 70’s, and Alexander the Great—as long as we’re not talking about the godawful movie of a couple of years ago. FDR. Eleanor Roosevelt. Mother (Mary) Jones (who is in one of my w.i.p.s).

5. Do you read other historical authors? And speaking of authors who are your favorites?

I actually read more nonfiction and biographies than I do fiction of any kind. Here are just a few of my favorite historical novelists. (I have not included several top favorites because they are personal friends and I’m afraid I might accidentally leave someone out.) Mary Renault, Pat Barker, Patricia Nell Warren [The Wild Man],Gore Vidal, Anya Seton, Stephen Vincent Benet [John Brown’s Body], Dalton Trumbo [Johnny Got His Gun]. Often those who might be considered historical writers really aren’t because when the books were written they were contemporary!

Favorite authors, again leaving off my friends (will they ever speak to me again?)
Thomas Hardy, Arthur Heller (God Knows), Ron Chernow, Gore Vidal, Walt Whitman, Jack London, Mark Twain, Rod Serling, James Baldwin, Edgar Allen Poe, Toni Morrison, Joe Keenan, Sheldon Bart (Ruby Sweetwater and the Ringo Kid), Judy Blume, Harvey Fierstein, Iris Murdoch…so many more the list would be endless.

6. I am a big Jack London fan too! Is it true you have lived your entire life in the Midwest and have never seen the sea? Or was this you just being poetic?

I don’t have a poetic bone in my tubby little body. I really have never been out of the Midwest except once to Vermont and Rhode Island for two days and once to Orlando for two days. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the Atlantic. On the other hand, I’m afraid of water. Give me a sea of amber waves of grain and tall corn any time. My mind and spirit have ranged worldwide, though, thanks to books, and film, and the Internet.

7. What is about gay men that particularly enthralls you to write about them?

The odd this is that I did not set out to write about gay men. Believe it or not, the book first saw the glimmering of life in the mid 1980’s and it was supposed to be a straight Civil War romance! That’s right: a straight (as in non-gay) story. I had never met a gay man (as it turned out, I had but didn’t know it) or read a gay book. You must remember, I grew up in this same small, rural town in the 50’s, in a place and at a time when gay books were as few and far between as gay people themselves.

So…how did a straight Civil War novel end up as a gay late Victorian novel, with basically the same protagonists? Funny you should ask. I worked on it every moment I had between my job, my family, my kids’ school activities, which means it was written at odd hours in corners on a Selectric. Anyway, as time passed I was puzzled and a little freaked out when the two main characters—men—kept being drawn to each other instead of the designated female. Again and again I just threw up my hands and put it away only to bring it out and work on it again a couple of years later. But the characters would not behave! Damn them, anyway. Finally, I decided to just let them do whatever they were going to do and go wherever they were going to go and be whatever they were going to be. And I also decided that there are a lot of wonderful Civil War novelists around and I wasn’t one of them. Hence, the shift in era.

With the writing of that book I discovered that I could write about gay men if that’s what the characters had to be. I don’t force it; just like children my characters let me know if they are or if they aren’t as the story goes along. The reception of my book by gay men was very positive and now I don’t freak when two guys fall in love in my books. Of my works in progress about half of them are about gay men, and so are the short stories I’ve done.

8. Have you had any negativity from gay men about being a woman choosing to write “their” stories?

Not at all, though people being what they are I’m sure there are men who get sniffy about it. It would be unrealistic to think otherwise. Some of my biggest fans are gay men; some of them are prolific authors who are far more successful than I would ever be. I’ve had wonderful letters from gay men, most of whom have gone on to become my good friends. I think the only actually negative personal response I’ve ever had was from a straight woman who ranted that she felt cheated because the sex scenes in my book were not explicit enough. But from gay men themselves I’ve had nothing but encouragement and kudos. It’s very, very humbling.

9. What are the qualities you most admire in a man both in life and art?

I admire the old fashioned things that don’t seem to be valued much anymore, like steadfastness (now there’s a word you don’t hear these days), intelligence, compassion, loyalty, generosity, courage—not the Rambo kind but the kind that keeps him going when things are tough. But then, they’re the same qualities I admire in a woman, too. I have all too few of those qualities, myself. Maybe that’s why my characters so often do have them; I can pretend they’re mine.

10. You described yourself once as an evergreen granny. What does an evergreen granny do every day?

Did I really use that term somewhere?
AJ says: Yes, in an interview with Josh Aterovis. I did my homework on you, Missy!
Blessed if I remember it. I don’t even know what it means unless it’s because I’m so old moss is starting to grow on me in unlikely places. The only thing I really recall saying about being a granny is that I bake a lot of cookies, and that I adore my grandkids.

11. I see you have several WIPS including Counterpoint, another Victorian story, which your website says is under consideration with a publisher. What else do you have coming up?

So-far untitled novel about Alexander Hamilton; Quinn – the violence and drama of the organized labor movement in the 19th century; A Bit of Earth – US Midwest 1910-1925—an interracial couple fights poverty and prejudice; Cullain—19th century gay romance between a young Wiccan and a disgraced schoolteacher; Forbidden—19th century gay romance of two young Rom (Gypsies) in England; Rain Dancer—contemporary gay/hate crimes police story. It’s hard to make anything sound interesting in five words so they probably sound very, very boring! They even sound boring to me, but the stories and characters are intriguing—even to me.

On behalf of Dark Diva Reviews, I'd like to thank Ruth Sims for stopping by today. To learn more about this wonderful writer, please check out her links:

My website: http://www.ruthsims.com/
My book review site:
My publisher’s website http://www.lethepressbooks.com/


Anonymous said...

Great interview, AJ! I am always amazed when authors say that thier characters will not behave and do as the author thinks that they should. To me, not an author, I visualize that you think up a story and write it as you envisioned it. I guess that is why I am not an author. LOL

AJ Llewellyn said...

Thanks for stopping by Melissa! Ruth was a delight to interview...and I am always intrigued by other authors' processes...

Deb said...

Aj, awesome interview, I love reading what comes out in them.
It always amazes me what you can find out :)