One of the best things about getting published has been getting to meet a host of amazing people. Earlier in the year, I travelled to Washington D.C. for the OutWrite Book Fair and got to spend a couple of days with Ken Murphy, Andrew Gordon, Shira Anthony, and Marguerite Labbe. Several other people dropped in, including Michael Murphy (no relation, but also a wonderful guy :)
So I'm extra happy to have Ken in the
hot seat interview chair today. Ken, the floor is yours...
Ken Murphy here, and for the last twenty-two years, I’ve called Atlanta, Georgia my home. I am originally from a small town in South Georgia, and except for a brief stint in the military, I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life. Yeah, I’m a real Georgia Peach. I’ve only been writing for about two years, and I half-jokingly call it my third career. My first career, and love, is Nursing. There is no greater calling than helping others. For my second career, I left the bedside so that I could use my healthcare background and interest in computers to make the electronic medical record easier for people to use. My current full-time job is in health informatics. I’ve been in a relationship with a wonderful man for almost two decades. We live in an old house in an historic neighborhood that we share with one slightly neurotic Dalmatian.
Please tell us a little bit about your current release. What inspired you to write this story? How did it come about?
My latest release is a short story called Pick Up. The idea for the story came to me right after my partner and I celebrated our nineteenth anniversary this past August. The premise for the tale is that Chaz, the main character, is looking for a little spice in his life. His partner is not home, so he goes out with the express intent of picking up a man from a bar for a little action on the side.
I'm a little afraid to ask how that idea came out of a nineteenth anniversary celebration ;-) What inspired you to become an author?
I have always been a passionate soul. I love being in love, and reading about others falling in love. Even as a teenager, I enjoyed reading romance novels. Of course back then, most of the ones I read were of the historical variety in which the main character was usually some damsel in distress. Life got in the way, and I took a long break from reading. A few years ago, I came to a place in life where I had time to begin reading for pleasure again. I was ecstatic to learn about the popularity of romantic fiction involving gay men. Then, a couple of years ago, I decided to give writing a try. I created the characters in my mind, and had the most amazing time bringing them to life on the page.
Is there an underlying theme in your stories?
There absolutely is an underlying theme; love and the interaction between two or more people. The majority of my works and works in progress concentrate on relationships. The primary focus of my stories is generally romance between two men, but not always. One of my yet to be released novels is about two men, but it’s not a romance in the traditional sense. I’d call it more of a story about love than a love story.
What drew you to write M/M fiction? What sub-genres do you enjoy the most?
First of all, I’m a gay man. It’s my normal. I like to read and write stories that dispel myths about men, especially gay men. Yes, we love sex, but it’s not all about sex. Okay, a bunch of it is about sex. Contrary to popular belief, lots of us fellas are affectionate and expressive. My favorite sub-genre is romance. When selecting a book to read, I tend to lean more towards contemporary gay romance. But I’ve been known to fall for a shifter of two, not to mention some off-worlders.
Would you categorize your stories as romance, erotica, or something else? Why?
How about a blend of romance and erotica? The main purpose of my writing is to bring people together. The relationship is the point. I don’t write in sex scenes simply to titillate, they move the story forward. On the other hand, I write for adults. I’m not going to close the bedroom door in your face, and make you guess what happened inside. Making love is an integral part of getting to know one another at first, and then it becomes a physical and emotional means of nurturing the bond between two (or more) people.
What are the best and worst reactions you’ve gotten from people after telling them what you write?
The best reaction I’ve received came from my aunt, who just happens to be in her seventies. She is one of my greatest and most supportive fans. I have also had fans tell me that Stubborn Heart moved them to tears. I am so pleased they came to love Trevor and Mark as much as I do. I couldn’t help laughing when one friend wrote to tell me that he was reading Stubborn Heart on a plane, and had to put the book away when he got a little too excited reading one of the love-making scenes (Yeah, I know what I said in the previous question, but I do want you to enjoy the physical side of the romance as well).
I’ve honestly not had any bad reactions from people when I tell them what I write. I know that I am fortunate. Too many M/M writers are forced to write from the closet for fear of losing their jobs, family, or friends. I was pleasantly surprised when my partner’s brother told be over the summer that he’s read Stubborn Heart. I asked him what he thought and he said the sex was a little vanilla. I had to ask him exactly what he thought it was that we gay boys did in the bedroom. I will definitely not be snooping in his nightstand drawers.
There’s some controversy about women who write M/M? Do you have any thoughts on the subject you want to share?
I’d be the first to admit that the number of women who read and write M/M romance took me by surprise. Now having said that, the second gay novel I ever read was The Front Runner by the wonderful Patricia Nell Warren. I have heard there are a lot of us fellas out there who believe women should stick to what they know. Let me just say that I’m not one of them. I think I did a fairly good job of describing childbirth in Cameron and Early (not yet released), and I have for certain never birthed no babies. It’s called research. I am much more concerned with the quality of the story, and the ability of the characters to worm their way into my head and my heart than I am the gender of the person who penned the novel.
Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones and do you use a different pen name? Why/why not?
I have not written anything other than gay literature, and I use my real name. I did jokingly say that one day I planned to write a main-stream novel and publish it under a pseudonym so no one would know it was me.
Pantster or plotter? Why?
I start out as a plotter. I like to have an idea of where the tale is headed. Of course, the best made plans don’t always work. There is a good reason Mark why earned the label stubborn in Stubborn Heart. Sometimes he just would not do what I wanted. But, it was his story, so I generally gave in. The end result was better because of it.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? (the spark, the research, character outlines…?)
My favorite part of writing is discovering the characters. Even though I start out with a basic notion of who they are at the beginning of the story, it is a learning process. As the tale progresses, I get to know the characters better, exactly as it is for the reader. And over time, the characters change. If you liked Trevor in Stubborn Heart, just wait until Sharing Heart. I fell in love with him all over again.
What’s your least favorite part of the writing process?
Edits are the worst part of writing a story. When I grow up, I’m going to write every story perfectly the first time. I will never head jump, overuse words, repeat myself… You get the point.
How much of your real life experiences go into your writing? Where does your inspiration usually come from? Ever based a character on a real person (friend or enemy?)
Probably a lot more than I realize of my real life goes into my writing. I do use real places for my stories. That is why (thus far) they are all centered around Atlanta. All of my characters have a little of me in them. A couple of people have told me that they can hear me saying some of the things Mark did in Stubborn Heart. But the stories themselves are made up. They didn’t really happen; at least not to me.
Do you listen to music while you write, prefer absolute silence, run off to the coffee shop…? If you do listen to music, can you name a few songs off your playlist?
When I write, I do nothing but write. No television, no music, zip. I am too easily distracted. I often see people post on Facebook or other media that they’re writing. I want to say to them “no you’re not writing, you’re socializing.” If these folks really can do both simultaneously, then I am amazed, and in awe. I do a lot of the plot work in my head though, and a great time for that is when I’m at the gym. I spend 30-45 minutes each day doing cardio, so that is the perfect opportunity to work out the details of a story or scene in my head. Later on, I sit down and type them out.
What do you do to get in the mood to write, especially when you don’t feel like it?
I always start out by reading what I wrote during my last session. It gets my head back in the story, plus it’s a great opportunity to do the first proof and edits on what I’ve done thus far. If I’m really having trouble getting in the zone, I give up. It just isn’t my day. I find that if I try to force it, it becomes a chore. And the quality of my writing reflects that. When I tried to force myself to write, I’ve generally had to go back in and rewrite all of it. I find that if I put it away until later, when I do get back, getting motivated is no longer a problem.
What makes for a great hero/heroine?
I like a hero who is flawed. I have never been able to identify or fall in love with a character that could do everything, be everything. And there is no struggle. If the hero is already perfect, what is the point of the story? The hero needs to have some good qualities and some bad ones. He/she needs to have the motivation to overcome whatever obstacle gets tossed their way, and come out better for it.
What makes for a great villain?
A villain is exactly the same as a hero, just on the other side of the coin. I can’t relate to a villain who is mean just because he can be. There has to be a good reason for why the baddie behaves as she does. I love a story where the villain somehow redeems himself at the end.
What makes for a great overall story?
A great story has to be believable, and it has to move me in some way. I don’t care whether you’re falling in love with the boy (or girl) next door, or wading through green goo with a three headed alien on one of the moons of Uranus, the story has to be plausible. People want to immerse themselves in the tale; want to believe it could happen to them. Now I don’t really mean I expect to even see one of Uranus’ moons close up, but I do want to believe that I could forge a bond with the three headed alien, and together we could triumph over evil, save the world, or fall in love.
What advice would you give to a writer who’s just starting out but who hasn’t been published yet?
Write. Write. Write. Stick to it, and believe in yourself. It took me almost a year to write Stubborn Heart. I would get stuck and put it down for weeks at a time. But I always went back to it. I was so fortunate that Dreamspinner Press accepted Stubborn Heart the first time I submitted it to them. That doesn’t always happen. If your manuscript gets rejected, politely ask the publishers why. Cameron and Early is currently under review by the third publisher I’ve submitted the story to. Both previous times, I asked for and received valuable feedback. Both times I made their story better, stronger. And if this publisher declines to publish it, I already have a fourth one lined up. I believe their story is just that important. The main thing is to never give up. Believe I what you do, and keep trying. You will succeed.
City boy/girl or Country Mouse? Why?
City boy all the way. I grew up in a small town, but I love the advantages of living in a metropolitan city. I like having a large selection of restaurants, and options for shopping; being close to the grocer, the park, or the gym. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of a big city. I think that is even truer being a gay man. It is certainly more acceptable to be gay and out in Atlanta than it was in the small town where I grew up. But that too is changing. I have many friends in smaller cities who are openly gay and accepted by their communities.
If you could pick up and move to any part of the world and live there, where would it be and why?
I don’t know that I would ever move. I love Atlanta. I joke about moving to South Florida simply because I am not a fan of cold weather. I would be perfectly happy if I never had to wear long pants or “real” shoes again. And there are so many beautiful beaches. But I don’t think I’d like the pace for more than a week or two at the time. After all, I am a city boy.
How do you unwind or de-stress after a bad day/week/month?
I go straight from work to the gym. A couple of years (and 50 pounds) ago, I went home and took a nap. Bad. Now I funnel the day’s frustrations into physical activity. Plus I get my story plotting time. After an hour or so at the gym, I feel revitalized. I can go home and write, or whatever I need to do.
What’s your dream job (besides being an author!)?
I have my dream job. I get to help people take better care of our nation’s veterans. I design tools that remind physicians to order important tests, or ask questions they might otherwise forget as they work to keep our veterans healthy. I develop tools to help them make sound choices when caring for veterans who are sick. Even though I consider myself a little tech-tarded, I enjoy working with computer programs and software. The tools in my job change frequently, so I’m constantly learning new things. I never get bored.
Of the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite? Which would you recommend to a new reader and why?
Gosh! That’s difficult. My favorite story is Stubborn Heart. I recommend both of my published works for different reasons. Stubborn Heart is about a man who’s been unlucky in love. It’s about finding love a little later in life. I like to think it gives the reader hope.
Pick Up is a lot different. It a short story about a middle-aged man who is already in a relationship. He goes out to a bar looking for a little excitement. You know, a quickie about a quickie.
Do you have a favorite character (of your own creation)? What makes that character special to you?
My favorite character ever (of my limited published work) is Trevor Hayes. He is a human teddy bear. He is very sweet and affectionate. He’s the kind of guy who’ll build you a fire, then spend the night cuddling with you in front of it. But it’s very obvious he’s the baby of his family. Trevor spends a lot of time growing up in Stubborn Heart. He really doesn’t understand why you can’t have something just because you want it.
What about your current story, who’s your favorite character in that one? Why?
Kelly is my favorite character in Pick Up. He’s exactly what Chaz needs him to be. Not to mention that he goes out to a bar in Midtown Atlanta dressed as a cowboy. I mean, how freaking hot is that?
Do you miss your characters when you finish a story? Do you try to come up with ideas for sequels, or are you too excited by the prospect of a new project to feel sad that the previous story is over?
I do miss the characters once the story is written. Like the books they’re in, these characters are my creation, part of me. That is why I wrote Sharing Heart. Mark let me know in no uncertain terms that his story was not over. And boy, was that the truth.
Of all of the stories you’ve written, which setting or location (city/country/time period) has been your favorite? Why?
First of all, I am unabashedly biased. I love Atlanta. It is a modern gem in the Old South. Atlanta has beautiful parks and lots of recreation. Some of our restaurants are world renowned. We have ridiculously wonderful weather, so you can enjoy the outdoors most days out of the year. And with several million inhabitants, Atlanta has a lot of folks with a lot of tales to tell.
Do you have any heroes or people you look up to? (Real life mentors, public figures, fellow authors, living or dead). If so, who and why?
I have many heroes, and a bunch of them are authors. A person who can arrange words on a page and use those words to transport the reader to another place, can make the reader laugh, cry, get angry, fall in love (or even better yet, all of those) is truly gifted. I am so lucky to call many of these people my friends. I learn from them every day.
One of the hardest things for an author to take is a bad review. How do you handle those one and two star reviews?
Read it, process it, and move on. Much easier said than done, I know. Reviews are important. I can tell you all day how wonderful my latest story about the mating habits of red squirrels is (I made that up), but it won’t have nearly as much impact as a five-star rating by Sally Reader in which she stated it was the best book she’d ever read. Likewise, I know some readers see a one-star rating and mentally cross the story off their lists. So, reviews do matter. And some of them are hurtful.
I always try to learn from reader feedback, positive or negative. One person felt I spent too much time describing a meal. I did not agree, but I respect his opinion. Unless it is really germane to the story, I won’t spend six pages writing about how to make chicken and dumplings. Another reader wrote that after ten pages, she decided the book was too boring. Not much I can do with that. I will say that as a reader, when I see comments like hers, my impression is more about that reader’s inability to focus than the writer’s ability to tell a story. Along those same lines, I offer this to my fellow writers: I’ve purchased a few books because of scathing reviews. I wanted to find out what evoked such passion in the reader. After all, writing, like all art, is meant to stir emotion.
What book are you reading right now? What do you like best about it?
I’m in between books right this minute. I just finished The Beast Without, by Christian Baines. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it is about a vampire and a werewolf. Baines did a great job of taking old archetypes and giving them a new twist. I also liked that the two main characters found in each other something neither one realized he was missing. Loved it.
Oh goodie, another one for the to-read pile (I'm a sucker for a good twist on the vampire/werewolf/lovers trope.)
What kind of music do you listen to? Do you have a favorite musical artist?
I like most music, pop, rock, country, dance, even a little rap now and again. I generally listen to music with a good beat, especially when I’m exercising. My favorite musical artist right now is Steve Grand. For those who aren’t familiar with Steve, he tags himself the first openly gay country music singer. Since I can’t think of another one, he may be telling the truth. He’s fairly new and only has a couple of songs out. If you don’t know Steve, YouTube All American Boy or Stay. Both music videos are a lot of fun. Steve has a great set of pipes, plus he’s easy on the eyes.
Shae Connor (another Atlanta native) sort of introduced me to Steve Grand on her website. Totally awesome (and this from a girl who doesn't usually get into country music!
What’s next on the horizon for you? WIPs, writing goals, personal goals…?
I definitely intend to continue writing. My current work in progress is Kyle and Jeff’s story. For those who’ve read Stubborn Heart, they are the couple who met Trevor and Mark in the park. It wasn’t the plan for my next story, but I think it has to be the next thing I complete. Jeff has such a loud mouth, and he’s been annoying the hell out of me lately.
I have plan for several more stories. A couple of folks have said they want Derrick’s story. It will come. He’s just too wonderful a man not to get his own turn. But you know, Derrick wasn’t always the great guy that he is now. He’s had his own share of issues in his past.
My personal goals focus around simplifying my life. I really want to have more time to get my ideas onto paper. At some point in the future I would love to transition into writing full time. And maybe one day I’ll get to get to the point in my writing career where, when surrounded by a room full of fellow authors, I don’t feel like the kindergarten kid accidentally chosen to play basketball on the high school team.
Thanks again to Ken for being here today!
You an buy his books here: