Today we have a great new exclusive interview with QSFer S.A. Collins on his book HO’M,O – released a couple months ago. The sequel, A Quarrel of Sparrows, comes out on 4/15. Watch this space.
QSF: Tell me about HO’M,O – what’s it about, and what’s with the name?
SA: HO’M,O came about for a friend of mine, actually the first person to ever read my stuff (beyond my husband) and liked what I wrote. I proclaimed him my first fan. He was cool with that. He lives in a fairly remote part of Michigan with very little going for him in the gay life. He has a fancy for werewolves so I wanted to write a story for him. I’d signed up for NaNoWriMo but hadn’t decided on a plot line for the challenge so HO’M,O was born.
The name of the book is straight from the main character’s name. I knew that it was going to be Henry O’Malley. I noted that the three letters of his initials were just one letter off from the word HOMO and since I was writing a weres story for my friend/fan, I decided that Henry would be an Omega (thus completing the title).
However, I wasn’t simply content with that. I wanted to change up the trope. I decided that instead of the Omega being the one down, the one who is often lowest on the totem pole (so to speak), my Omega is the most revered. Actually, in my world of Hank and his boys in Sparrows Hollow, West Virginia, the Omegas across the board hold huge sway over pack life. They are its life blood. The alpha still calls the shots but the Omega is the real power behind the pack life. If an Omega repudiates a pack member he can literally destroy them, drive them completely feral to where they’ll attack and hurt themselves, often leading to their own gruesome death. Hank learns very quickly that when his boys bind themselves to him, they know he has their lives in his hands. An Omega in my world can do this even to an Alpha. So they are very respected in the pack community. Omegas are born like they are in standard shifter stories in the genre, but they aren’t always allied with a pack. So an Alpha must woo an Omega to join their pack.
I set it in 1956 in Appalachian West Virginia (mostly because my husband hails from there) and I wanted technology out of the mix: no cell phones, no collection of gadgetry of any kind. This story is rooted deeply in characters. My husband provided guidance for the particular vernacular of that part of Appalachia. And I need to be clear on this because he’d kick my ass if I get it wrong: Appalachian speech patterns are not like country bumpkins. Actually, studies by linguists have shown that the speech isolated in hills of Appalachia is akin to what English would’ve sounded like in the late 1700s. So when they speak in the book, it is this old speech pattern. However my husband (who is my editor) also said that I shouldn’t use it (too much) in the narrative portions because it would become too cumbersome a read, something my beta readers concurred with. It takes a bit to get in synch with Hank and his boys, but once you do, you’re fairly good-to-go with them.
I tend to write character studies. Even with werewolves in the mix I wanted to be up in their headspace. So the story doesn’t follow normal plot devices. It doesn’t do what you would think it would do. It is far more interesting to me to have you up in Hank’s head as everything is revealed to him. He stops momentum, he ponders things, he goes back over things because it’s quite a lot I throw at him and he struggles to cope with it all. I love inner monologue. As a trained pro-actor, I love the subtext of character – the “what’s not written” that builds who they are and as an actor you have to construct that. That’s what I want to impart with all my works. You will know them intimately. I want you to grapple with Hank’s inner-wolf as much as he does. And as it is part of a series, I don’t tidy things up with a big bow in the end. I ask just as many questions as I attempt to answer with each installment. You’ll get an episodic HFN but no full on HEA. The work will fade out (like TV series often do) from our heroic were pack and fade back up in the villain’s lair to discover my boys “ain’t as free n’ clear as all that …”
QSF: What inspired you to write it?
SA: It was written for my friend, Michael, as I’ve said before. But what isn’t known is that while I was in the midst of writing it, he had a real serious scare with his health. Simply put:
Mid-stream in my writing, my first fan and friend, a man who I only knew over the net, was potentially facing a very serious life-threatening illness. The night he told me, I had to dig deep to continue writing. I knew I wanted to finish it. No, it was more than that: I HAD TO FINISH IT. Living where he does, Michael hasn’t been the center of attention; he’s never been the focus. I wanted to let him know
I saw him
. I wanted him to know his words at the beginning of everything I was doing meant the world to me.
So I dedicated the work to him and changed one of the boy’s names in Hank’s pack to his name. He emailed me and said that when he read the dedication in the book and the name change of one of the characters (he’s one of my most ardent beta readers) to his name, he was truly touched. He said he never had been “seen” by anyone before, never been acknowledged. I gave that to him. HO’M,O means a lot because while it wasn’t my illness that I was dealing with, I felt as if I went through it with him. All of this while under the pressure cooker of writing during that one month to complete a novel. It was gut wrenching not knowing what was happening to him with all of the medical tests he was going under while I feverishly wrote HO’M,O.
Thankfully, as we neared the end of the challenge, and I was wrapping up the story, we got excellent news that a team of medical experts in what he was dealing with came back and said it wasn’t what was originally diagnosed. They didn’t have an idea of what to do going forward, but the “bullet” had been dodged. Elation didn’t begin to describe it. So Hank and his boys have a very deep sentimental feeling attached to them for me and Michael.
QSF: Is it part of a series or a stand-alone?
SA: It is part of a series, but I know that it won’t be for everyone. It is not your standard genre read. I crawl up into the headspace of the war between man and wolf. And I introduce a new element to the trope, a new classification: a Gamma. There are witches and other supernaturals that show up along the way. A veritable garden of spooks, if you will. Think of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful which is less about the horror (though it’s still prevalent) and more about how the humans struggle with their inner-demons/monsters. That’s where I am going with it all. Book 2 of the series – A Quarrel of Sparrows is due out 4/15 of this year.
QSF: What’s the response been like to the book?
SA: For the most part when people don’t have preconceptions to what it is, I get really good response from it. Actually, I had to laugh because a recent reviewer kept harping that it was “all tell” which is the entire point of a character study, something that the reviewer didn’t bother to pick up on – which I have to concede, character studies aren’t all that common in literature. I can see why she might not have considered that point. I guess I wasn’t very clear about the nature of the work. I’ve corrected that now – I clearly say so in the author’s notes going forward.
Yes, it’s about werewolves. Yes, it’s got man-on-man (x8 – they’re a pack, remember?) loving. It’s erotic, it’s neurotic, it’s all of that – BUT, you are in the character’s headspace so it is (for the majority) inner-monologue. The review didn’t bother me so much because I know what the works are. All of it is intentional. I think it’s the thick skin I cultivated while a performer on stage that allows me to shrug off those types of reviews. By the time I write the last words of the last book in the series I want you to come away intimately knowing how these characters are and why they do what they do. I find the workings of our minds to be far more interesting and fertile ground than the situational stuff an author can throw at them. That part is easy for me – the situations. It’s the whys and wherefores that are more interesting to me as an author.
QSF: What else do you write?
SA: Actually, if I didn’t write character studies I probably wouldn’t be inspired to write. The reason I think this is because of an (absolutely true) event told by a very close personal friend to me (on the very day it happened to him back some 30 years ago) that his mother gave him two things for his 18th birthday (I was there when it all unfolded – so it isn’t hearsay). She said:
1) His father was probably/most definitely not his father; he was the product of an affair she had (she even went into great detail on how she conned his “father” into thinking the baby was his); and,
2) When he was eight, the RDA (Royal Dance Academy of London) saw him in a production and invited his mother to bring him to the UK to audition for the school (my friend was a very good ballet dancer at the time, he’s since left it due in part as a fallout from this event). She turned them down. A potential career that he could’ve had was abandoned before he ever knew about it.
And she kept both those things from him until his 18th birthday – no other gifts for him but those pieces of information she’d holed up in her mind. THAT’S when I knew that workings of the mind were far more interesting and potentially insidious than people outwardly let on. She was a vile woman – a dazzling smile with crazed wide-eyes. And she was in therapy her entire life. Both his parents were. We’re now in our mid-life years and yet that story has stayed with me throughout all that time. It was then that my husband opened me up to the world of character studies. He said that is what I was writing, not standard fiction but character studies. He is a retired psychiatrist (before he went on to become a Quantum Mechanics Physicist with NASA) so he has a fairly good idea of the psychological elements I tend to write about and how to keep me on an even keel with it.
I just discovered that for me it is what you aren’t saying to me when we talk/interact that I am most interested in. Those private meanderings going on up there … that’s what I write about. When I write about gay men, I write about us as we are, with all of the crap that’s piled on top of us by a hostile society as we eke out a small slice of happiness in this often unfair and upside-down world. What that barrage of cross-messages (alternating between acceptance and hostility) does is to keep us mentally hoping from foot to foot, constantly polling our world around us to ensure we’re safe, as we keep striving for something that we’ve been told is wrong and we can’t have. Sadly, some of us don’t make it. I want to write about them, too. Those stories have power and they aren’t often told. It probably means I won’t be a big-time best seller. I’ve learned to embrace that. I will write what needs to be written from my perspective. The chips will fall where they may.
QSF: What are you working on now?
SA: Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot is my next work up for release (4/1 of this year). Angels is also a character study work. The main character breaks all sorts of rules – finger to the fourth wall (he knows you’re there and he addresses you directly), he rambles, he mentally walks over something time and again to give you a sense of how dangerous his world is and how he has to pulse check it to stay safe. And while it has what I believe is a very strong romance between two seniors in high school, it does deal very seriously with homophobia in competitive sports (football, in this case) and the violence born out of it. I don’t pull punches with that work.
It starts out heady and romantic, but it soon begins to spiral into something truly horrific. It ends on a cliff hanger (and I’ve been warned by many in the romance genre that that’s a BIG no-no). But all is not lost. The story continues with Volume 2 (told from the jock boyfriend’s perspective) and continues the time line until another set of events that nearly destroys them all happens (another cliff-hanger) and then we get the final volume told by a boy who has been present all along but you didn’t know what an important role he’d been playing. That third book will wrap it all up into a big Ever After, Happily (though after paying a fairly high price along the way). Angels is a gritty work. It is hands-down literary in nature. And it has a very solid ensemble that isn’t hard to follow, so I hope people will give it a chance. The books are epically big. Vol 1 is 207K words (540 printed pages) and Vol 2 (which is nearly completed) will be slightly larger than that. I should have vol 2 out by late summer. And Vol 3 by end of year (fingers crossed).
I’ve also got my Fae Wars series I’m working on (Fear the Feigr) which is a call back to the Norse Fae (the Feigr) which historically pre-date the Celtic incarnation. That one is full on SciFI masquerading as magic type of work. One of the central questions it poses is when is gay not gay at all? I am having fun with that one. It also has the main character that bears my author name. Actually, I assumed his name. In the beginning I thought it would be interesting if he wrote his own book. Then I just said, why doesn’t he write all my books? So Sebastian Alexander (SA) Collins was born. I kinda love him. I get to put him on (ever the actor in me) and enjoy any successes he has and give him a “chin up” when things don’t go so smoothly. But he’s over there. A role I play in life.
I’ve also got another SciFi work called The Cove Chronicles which deals with the creation story of my people (on my dad’s side), the Haudenosaunee of upstate NY (most people know them as the Iroquois Confederacy). I take the creation story of Sky Woman and turn it into a SciFi work where Natives are the focus and it is in an alternate universe setting – the road not travelled from an actual historical event that went one way in our world, but I’m having it go another in this work. So Native American scifi superheroes. Yeah, I wanna give back to my own. And of course it has a very strong m/m romance at its core. All of my works do, really. They’re just not romance reads. No auto-anything. If you wanna know what happens next you do what you do with any book – you gotta turn the page. But yeah, no guarantees. Sorta like life, but with Feigr and Super-hero Indians.
Yeah. That’ll work.
A 2014 NaNoWriMo Writer Challenge Story:
Henry O’Malley, Omega — Hank to those who know him, is about to have his world turned upside down.
You see, Hank is just a nice boy on the verge of becoming a man trapped in the quietude of Sparrows Hollow, West Virginia. The year is 1956 and Hank is in his senior year at the Cavanagh Gap Regional High School. Not that he has much to look forward to that he isn’t already doing. His life thus far is limited to the mundane existence of school work and the general store he runs with his mother in Sparrows. His Daddy ain’t been around much since Hank was a boy, when his daddy went off to the World War in Europe and the military just sorta lost him. No body to bury, nothing to grieve over.
Having idolized his father from a early age, Hank hasn’t been the same since.
Yet the scent of his father lingers around Sparrow’s, like a long ago caress he recalls from his father’s hand when he was a boy. His mama says that’s just “the spirit of his daddy lookin’ out for him.”
Only Hank ain’t so sure.
Then there’s the boys from his high school football team. Ruffians to the core. They’re the kind of boys that girls want to be with and other boys want to run with. Iconically beautiful and fearsome all in one. These boys were once Hank’s childhood friends – now scattered to the far corners of the school running like a pack of wolves – given the school mascot being a wolf, the irony isn’t lost on Hank. But Halloween is fast approaching, Hank’s eighteenth birthday, and the bad boys have cornered Hank and ominously informed him, “It’s time…”
Just as Hank is getting his bearings with these boys, this pack of bad boys, a mysterious visitor arrives in the store stirring up trouble. It seems Mama and Daddy weren’t as normal as Hank thought all along. This new stranger threads his way into Hank’s already upside down world and his boys ain’t too happy about it. The tang of anger and testosterone fill the air in Sparrows and the makings of a pack blood feud is about to ignite. Just as Hank feels he is out of his element, he discovers that something he resigned to in his past my not be as he thought it was. He may just have gained a powerful ally to take on this new threat.
A slightly scary, over the top, story about hormonally charged werewolves, powerful witches and erotically charged boy on boy love-action. A gay take on those classic movies of the golden age of classic horror monsters. What could be sexier?
First of a erotic horror novella series, episodic in nature.
I guess the best way to begin is by telling ya who I am. Yeah, that’d be good, I guess.
My name is Henry O’Malley, but most people around here call me Hank. I was named after my daddy, but he ain’t around no more. Not that he left us or nothing. Well, not by choice. See, my mama got pregnant with me a few years before Daddy joined up to the army. This happened shortly after Pearl Harbor at the start of our part in the second world war. I guess the government got desperate. Not that my dad was in poor shape or nothing. From the pictures I’d seen of him, and the man I know’d he’d become before he shipped off, I spied that he was a mountain of a guy — massive, monumental enough to rival Hercules hisself. The only reason he flew under the radar for most of the draft I guess was because we were in a Podunk of a town in the furthest backwater you could find. And you’d still have to walk a couple of miles further to get here — even then, you still might get lost. The kind of place that was so far off the beaten path that you’d have to pipe sunshine in, as we’d like to say.
Sparrows Hollow wasn’t the kind of town that appeared on any map. Just ‘twasn’t worth the trouble. I think the last census had us pegged at about 500 people who called her home. I was surprised by that because I swear you could walk for miles and never see a single soul and you wouldn’t have to try too hard to do that, neither.
But as I said, it was just Mama and me now. Daddy wasn’t in the picture on account of him going off to the war and they sorta lost him. No body to bury; no funeral to hold — only because we never knew what happened.
‘Twasn’t like the only time Daddy’d left us, neither. While he and Mama got along for the most part, they did have discussions about things I wasn’t a part of. Daddy’d go off for a couple of nights a month. He’d never say where he’d gone or what he’d done. Didn’t make Mama happy none, but he was the man of the house so no one did anything to stop him. ’Twas the was the way ’twas, thassall.
I remember one time when Mama accused him of having another woman in his life in some other town. He told her that there wasn’t any woman and that he had to take care of business on those nights a couple of counties over with some of the boys. A guy thing. But he swore “‘tweren’t any women involved.” I don’t know how he convinced her, or what he said, but somehow she believed him. Didn’t make it any easier on them or me, but we’d learned to accept it.
Then came the call from the war; he went and just never came back. Yet, there were times I swear I could feel him near: while I was walking home from school, or when I was out tryin’ like hell to catch some fish in the one creek we’d used to fish in that I could guarantee hadn’t been ruined by the mines. It wasn’t that I heard him, just a familiar scent on the air, something that was intrinsically him — from memory, deeply rooted inside of me since I was a boy. I never knew what to make of it. Mama said it was just his spirit watching over me.
We did okay because along with Daddy’s pension from the Army, Mama had inherited the general store from her father when he passed. So at the very least we had food and a roof over our head. To make things a tad easier, Mama took to selling the house we had and we took to living in the small apartment above the store. Doing so, we were able to eke out a decent life.
For a few years it went like that. It was just Mama and me. We did the best we could. It meant that I had to grow up quite a bit faster than most of my friends. What few I had. There was little time for playtime or just being a kid. It was a life filled with school, the store and just generally getting along as best we could.
That’s when Cora Reiff entered our lives. Cory was as gentle a soul as you’d ever meet. She was of an average height, but had the appearance of a farm woman of German stock. Though she had probably had the coloring of an Aryan for most of her life, by the time she came to us her hair had lost any of its original hues in favor of a crown of white. Her eyes flashed with a brilliant blue that rivaled the skies and held a spark that belied her age. She was what you called an old soul, a learned soul. She was not book smart in that way that some people liked to profess, but I learned very quickly that she was a walking encyclopedia of life experience that she’d spoil me by letting me plunder her worth whenever the mood struck. It struck quite often, I can tell you that.
Cory and I were like two peas in a pod in the store. Cory didn’t have much of anywhere to go, no family to speak of. She just showed up one day to find work. We had some and she charmed the pants off of me, literally, ‘cause she said they needed cleaning something fierce. I was eight at the time and I was smitten with the attention she lavished on me that never failed to make us smile. Cory was the balance in my home life, mostly ‘cause Mama was not always what they’d call en pointe, as she’d like to say. It was a phrase she picked up from her days in college that Cory and me had acquired. Mama had her good days.
That was unless, of course, if she had one of her quiet spells. Then Cory and I had to pull more than both our weights around the store to get things covered. ‘Twasn’t Mama’s fault exactly; she just was given to severe bouts of depression over what she said was our miserable lives.
I didn’t think they were so miserable. Well, they had their ups and downs just like any other. But we did okay. I was a good student in school, well by Sparrow standards, that is. Not that I’d had to worry about going to college or nothing no matter how smart I was. It just wasn’t gonna be in the cards for me — no matter how many times Mama had said that was her biggest wish for me. She wanted me to get out and get as far away from Sparrows as I could get. She had her reasons, I suppose. It was just the way life in Appalachia was. There were very few souls that ever escaped her mountains for greener and greater horizons.
S.A. Collins hails from the San Francisco Bay Area where he lives with his (legal) husband, their daughter and, wonder of all wonders because he only just broke 50, a whirlwind of a granddaughter (pictured with me above). Along with two exotic looking cats, they happily live out the Republican Neo-Con nightmare. In their near 20 years together the couple (truly) not had a single argument – so they must be doing something right. Their home is filled with laughter and love whilst shouting at the top of their lungs (or very near to, it’s just how we communicate as a family) — something that causes great aggravation to the hubby who prefers solemn quietude (he’s seldom rewarded for his wishes — though he often tries). Science and knowledge reign supreme in their home and no topic is too sacred to discuss.
When not consumed with writing, Mr. Collins is a classically trained singer and has performed with several opera and operetta companies throughout California. His tastes in music, the arts and with food are varied and eclectic. He can’t think of any other way to be. It’s the variety of life that sparks the imagination, after all. In his day to day life, he wrestles with computers, servers and networks to keep things afloat in between his writings – though he often wishes things were simpler and less technically inclined. A good pen and a nice piece of paper would be just lovely – thank you very much.
This is Mr. Collins’ first foray into writing but, as with all of his artistic endeavors, he plunges in and figures it out as he goes. It’s worked thus far (with a little elbow grease and some ingenuity), so why break a winning formula?
You can reach him at: [email protected]