TNA: Hi, Chris, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself: hobbies, interests, things we might not know about you but should?
Chris: Hello and thanks for having me stop by!
Let’s see, stuff about me you might not know but should…. I live a pretty open life. Most anything anyone wants to know about me can be found somewhere on line. I’m in my 40’s (not sure how that happened), I’m bisexual, I was married to a wonderful woman whom I loved until the day she died and whom I still miss. I am now in a great relationship with a guy who supports this crazy writing dream of mine. I love cats and have way too many of them. I write for the gay entertainment website TheBacklot.com, recapping shows like Arrow and Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for them. When I’m not writing or reading, I tend to be remodeling my house.
TNA: What was your first published book? Do you remember the precise moment you came up with the story idea and knew you wouldn’t rest until it was told? Did you tell anyone about it, or keep it close to the vest?
Chris: Exiled to Iowa. Send Help. And Couture was the first book I put out there for sale. Had read a lot (a lot) of gay YA and I sort of felt that the more effeminate gay boys had been left out of the genre. I was later informed that this was because effeminate gay men are sort of considered an offensive stereotype, but I don’t really accept that argument. Such men do exist and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The gay community has a nasty habit of shunning such men, though, which is a rant for another time.
Anyway, I myself had moved from the bustling (re: insane) Los Angeles area to a much smaller town. I had the idea of what it would be like for a teenager to be plucked out of the hip, exciting world of L.A. and dropped into a quiet Midwestern town. And so Collin was born. I instantly saw him glaring up at the house he had been moved to and it all came together.
I tend to not share stories until they are at least through the first draft. I worry that if they aren’t well-received, I’ll give up on the idea before it really has had a chance to prove itself. Once I have a draft done, I’ll walk back and forth over burning coals to get the book finished. Which more or less describes the process of bringing Arrival to the world.
TNA: If you could go back in time, to the moment you sat down and began writing that first book, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give yourself now that you have the benefit of experience?
Chris: The biggest problem I have as a writer is getting obsessed with a particular story component. I have been getting better about it, with the help of a great editor and my partner. But it’s hard to tell sometimes if I’m just being stubborn or if there is a really good reason for hanging onto something I ought to just scrap.
I got really hyper focused on the framework I had for the story, which was a school play that Collin was putting on. Initially, it was the backdrop that let the story work. But what the story should have been about was the relationship between Collin and his boyfriend.
But I’m still pretty happy with the book and I’ve received some really great, really heartwarming feedback from people. As long as a book I write touches some people, that’s really all I can ask.
TNA: Who are some authors that inspire you? What is it about their writing that leaves you in awe?
Chris: My two favorite YA authors are Brent Hartinger (whom I have come to count as a friend) and Alex Sanchez.
What Brent does that is something I find too hard to do to my characters is he lets them screw up bad. Russell Middlebrook, the star of his Geography Club series, really messes up and people get hurt. It’s not that he’s a bad kid—not at all. He’s just young and trying to figure stuff out and so naturally, he makes mistakes.
I try to do that, but I back off before I get in too deep. It’s one of those things I work on, trying to find a balance.
Sanchez writes wonderfully true and honest teenage characters. His book, Getting It is one of my favorite YA books of all time. It’s hard as heck to tell a story about teenagers and make it engaging and realistic and enjoyable. But he makes his characters wonderfully real and vivid.
Other authors I really admire include Eli Easton, who writes brilliant and original gay romance that somehow does “gay for you” in a way I can believe, and R. Cooper, who writes great paranormal romances in a rich world she has built.
TNA: How would you describe your books to someone who hasn’t read them yet? Do your characters share common qualities? What’s your idea of a great protagonist?
Chris: A good friend and fan said I had this pattern of taking two outsiders/losers and bringing them together to make their lives a little less terrible. And while I can’t actually disagree with that assessment, I will say it wasn’t intentional.
I just sort of feel that the nerds and jocks are fairly well covered by other authors. And my memory of high school is that there are a lot of other cliques and tropes. I like to write about those people who don’t really fit in anywhere. The outsider is a character archetype everyone can relate to.
To me, the best protagonists do what is right even when it’s hard. Collin stood up for Austin, even at the risk of his own popularity (which, as I said, should have been the crux of the story but oh well) and Justin’s whole journey in Fearless was about learning to make the brave but hard choices.
TNA: You write Young Adult/Coming-of-Age stories, featuring gay teens from different walks of life. What is it about that particular point in a young man’s life that inspires you to craft stories around it, and why do you think your work also appeals to an adult audience?
Chris: Laziness on my part. No, I kid. Well, mostly. The second half of the teen years is a very complicated time in a person’s life. You’re no longer a child, but you’re not quite an adult. You are navigating hormones, the maze of social interactions and all the while trying to figure what sort of human you are going to be and what you are going to do with your life.
It’s a gold mine of story potential. Everything at that age is just so crucial, so important. The hurts hurt more, the victories are ten times sweeter.
As a fan of YA and someone with friends who also like YA, it’s my feeling that we never quite get over those high school years. We long to revisit those days of first kisses, first crushes, first heartbreaks. A good YA story will take you back to your own teen years.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your new novel Hybrids: Arrival, which is your journey into YA sci-fi. How much fun did you have creating Joaquin, Thrace, and all the action and adventure they get into? What was the most difficult part of creating a character from an entirely different world?
Chris: Joaquin is easily the toughest protagonist I’ve ever made. I actually went through a couple of permutations with him—he was named Zac at one point. It’s easy for me to write a smart-mouth like Collin or even a cynical, sarcastic guy like Justin. I decided I just didn’t want to repeat myself like that with Joaquin.
That’s not to say he can’t be funny. He can. But he’s a very serious sort of young man. That’s mostly due to the fact that his father died in Afghanistan, which has made him sort of angry at the world. Once I decided that was the character I was going with, I made myself own it. I refused to minimize or trivialize his experience because I know there are all too many kids out there dealing with that sort of grief.
Thrace also went through a revamp. Initially, he was very responsible and heroic and utterly boring. No, really, he was the square-jawed hero that can be admired but no one cares to learn about.
Once I hit upon the idea of making him the smart-mouth, then it got fun. Instead of going with the usual sarcasm that my characters are known for, I made Thrace sort of an air-headed, relentlessly cheerful guy who is just happy to be having an adventure. He’s never been unhappy, so he has no coping mechanisms for that, which will be a problem for him as the story progresses….
It’s really hard to make an alien culture that is actually alien and yet still understandable and one that hasn’t been seen before. I don’t know if I succeeded, there’s so much Sci Fi out there I could never read it all. But I really like the Thaetauri. They’re a very orderly society, very duty-bound and honorable. But there is a cold pragmatism to them that makes them dangerous.
TNA: If you were to sum up Joaquin and Thrace in just a few sentences, what would you tell us about them to help us know and understand them a bit better, without giving away too many of their secrets?
Chris: Joaquin is a loyal friend and a good guy. He’s the sort of friend who would drop whatever he was doing to come and help you out. He’s been wounded by the loss of his father, whom he idolized. He’s angry at the world, but that won’t keep him from risking everything to save it.
Thrace is innocent. He grew up in a virtual reality world where nothing bad ever happened and anything he wanted he could have. He believes completely in the nobility of his people. But secretly he really admires humans and feels a protective affection for them.
TNA: What are some of the central themes of the story? Is there a moral to it that you hope readers take away from it?
Chris: The relationship between fathers and sons is definitely central to the story. It’s what guides Thrace and Joaquin’s actions. And it is what binds them together.
The different kinds of courage would be another theme. Thrace is pretty much bullet proof. It doesn’t take courage for him to square off against a band of soldiers. It does take courage for him to open his eyes and face the truth about what his people are doing on Earth.
And Joaquin and his friends don’t have powers or even weapons. But they learn to do what is right even when it’s scary. It’s a fun theme to explore.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Arrival with us?
Chris: Of course I would. This is one of my favorite scenes. It takes place after Joaquin and Thrace have already met and Thrace left to finish his mission, leaving Joaquin to think he would never see the alien again. I think it’s a great example of their dynamic.
Upon entering his house, he heard rattling noises from the kitchen. Since he knew his mother was at work, he assumed a possum had gotten in again. That was not good. They sometimes slipped in through a loose screen when they smelled something appetizing in the garbage that Joaquin had forgotten to take out. When that happened, he got an earful from his mother.
He sighed and headed for the kitchen, dreading the mess he would have to clean up more than the critter he would have to wrangle. Once terrified into “playing possum,” the little nuisances could easily be taken outside. The disaster left behind would be nasty, though. It would make the whole house reek.
Instead of an unwelcome furry miscreant, though, it was a tall, blond and familiar figure raiding his fridge. He wore only a pair of Joaquin’s sweats, which left visible a host of burns and cuts on his broad back. It took Joaquin a moment to find his voice.
The ELF pulled his head out of the fridge and grinned around a Twinkie he had stuffed in his mouth. His blond curls were damp from a shower he had apparently taken. In spite of his impish gaze, he looked battered and worn.
“Srfm, mmf!” He finished his Twinkie. “Sorry, you know that regenerating makes me ravenous.”
Joaquin looked around at the kitchen. Empty boxes of crackers, pudding cup containers and candy bar wrappers were strewn about. Thrace had gone through the cupboards like a plague of locusts, devouring everything in sight. By comparison, a possum invasion would have been neater.
“I’m happy to see you, but this is not a good idea,” Joaquin said. “The government might be watching me now, and if they saw you fly into my yard—”
Thrace worked open a jar of peanut butter. “They aren’t looking for me anymore.”
“How do you know?”
“They think I’m dead.”
Joaquin frowned and then took the peanut butter away from him. Thrace pouted, which was sort of cute. “Sit and tell me what happened while I fix you some real food.”
The ELF beamed afresh and sat on a nearby stool. “Okay. Well, I was halfway to Denver when your people sent some aircraft to intercept me.” He let out one of those dry coughs, so Joaquin got him a bottle of water.
While he chugged that down, Joaquin whipped together some pancakes. “Uh huh.”
“Well, I didn’t want to hurt them, but they were very persistent. I finally had to disable their craft. Don’t worry, I made sure the pilots got out alive. I got all but one. He was clever, I have to admit. I couldn’t shake him. Then I got careless and he hit me with a missile.”
Joaquin gave him a suspicious look. “Is this one of your weird jokes?”
“No….” Thrace looked abashed. “It was a really good shot.”
Joaquin laughed softly. “Well, you did crash to Earth like a meteor, so I guess a missile would be nothing to you.”
“It stung,” Thrace said. “But not as much as when I crashed into the mountain. I was out for a few hours. So, I’m pretty sure your government thinks I’m dead.”
“It’s not just my government that’s after you.”
“All of them, I think.”
Joaquin served up a stack of pancakes and then began cutting up mangos and strawberries for a smoothie. He knew from his weight-training days how to curb a serious hunger.
“Wow….” Thrace sniffed the pancakes and then took a bite. His golden eyes lit up in excitement. “These are wonderful! What are they called?”
Joaquin watched him wolf them down, unable to keep himself from smiling in amusement. “Pancakes,” he said.
“Kwith?” Joaquin asked.
“It’s kind of … um … I guess it’s kind of like ‘cool.’ It’s a word in my language to describe a type of air that is fun to fly through because it lets you go really fast.”
“Oh.” Joaquin smiled. “Kwith.”
Thrace beamed at him around a mouthful.
“I’m guessing you don’t know how to cook, since you couldn’t even figure out how to work the microwave.”
He nodded towards a stack of frozen foods lying open on the counter. They looked like they had been the victim of a bear attack. Frozen vegetables lay forlornly amidst the wreckage of plastic trays and shattered Salisbury steaks.
Thrace’s ears went pink. “I wasn’t sure which device was the microwave.”
“What do your people use to make food?”
“We have automatons for that sort of thing. I don’t know what all they do.”
“Huh, okay. So, how did you get back here?”
“Oh, well, I realized that I couldn’t fly anymore. So I borrowed one of those land vehicles your people use.”
“Borrowed? You stole a car?”
“No, I only borrowed it. Why? Is that bad?”
Joaquin let out a groan. “Only slightly. People really don’t like their cars being taken, dude.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“You can’t figure out a microwave but you can drive a car?”
“I did run into a few things. But eventually, I got it right. I couldn’t figure out how to get to Denver on land, so I decided to come back here instead.”
Joaquin sighed heavily. “So, you wrecked several military planes, got shot down, stole and wrecked someone’s car and then decided to pay me a visit?”
Thrace gave him a pleading look. “I need your help.”
Joaquin felt a strange combination of excitement and panic at that admission. “Really?”
Helping Thrace had been an impulse born of the thrill of meeting an extraterrestrial. Since then, he had been rousted by mysterious commandos and threatened by Lyons. That was enough to give him pause. There was also the fact that Thrace, however inadvertently it had been, was responsible for a swath of destruction all over New Mexico.
TNA: I know this is sort of like asking you to name your favorite child, but of all the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite? If so, which and why?
Chris: Fearless remains my favorite. Like naming your favorite child, you tend to like the one who is the easiest to deal with, am I right? Fearless was incredibly easy to write. Even when I had to do a little rewrite, it only took a week or two.
Beyond that, I am incredibly proud of it for being a story about friendship and for being an unflinching tale about how life just isn’t always fair but even still, you can find hope and joy.
TNA: If you could bring one of your characters off the page and into the real world, whom would you most like to spend time with, and what makes him/her someone you think you could be friends with?
Chris: That’s a tough one, especially since we’re talking about teenagers who wouldn’t want to be friends with someone so impossibly old as me.
Now, when I was a teenager, it would be great if I had had a friend like Liam to smack me up the backside of the head and stop being so dumb. But then, I think a lot of people could use a Liam to help them learn to face life head on.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs with us?
Chris: I’m working on Hybrids: Conversion. It’s a little hard to talk about without spoiling Arrival, but I’ll give it a try.
Joaquin and his friends discover that the Thaetauri have not given up their plans and so they have to try to stop it. It’s going to reveal more of the backstory of the Thaetauri activities on Earth. And it’s going to force Joaquin to make a very difficult choice.
I’m also working on my adult romances, which I write under D. River. I have a sequel to my shifter book Love Bites which is way behind schedule thanks to Arrival being such a challenge.
TNA: And finally, would you kindly share with us all the places we can find you on the internet?
Chris: You can follow my Facebook page for updates on my PG 13 YA work
You can go to http://lightbane.com/hybrids.html to get more info on Arrival.
Lightbane.com has all the info on all my work.
I have a Goodreads author account.
And you can always email me with thoughts, questions or feedback. I love to hear from people. firstname.lastname@example.org
TNA: Many thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer some questions and for sharing an excerpt from Hybrids: Arrival.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED