Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Author Spotlight: Lily Velden, Author of New Release Gay as Mardi Gras

I recently had a nice chat with Lily Velden, whose book, Gay as Mardi Gras, will be released tomorrow (March 6, 2013). Check out what she had to say about art, the stigma attached to fanfiction authors and how she came up with the concept for her latest book!

In addition to being a writer, some may not know that you're also an artist. When did you first become passionate about art, and how did your art background manifest itself into your writing?

As long as I can remember, M.

As a small child I didn’t have a lot of interest in typically girlish things like dolls. I always liked writing and illustrating my own stories, and making things. I loved craft.
When I was in my late twenties, I bumped into my old kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Green, and she asked me what I was doing with myself. As soon as I mentioned I was in the middle of completing a degree in fine arts she beamed at me and began recounting a story of my first day as a five-year old in her class. She related how she’d had the class coloring in pictures of nurses, firemen, and doctors etc. When she came to check on me, I was desperately trying to cover the outlines of my picture of a policeman with my colored pencils. She explained to me the idea was to keep within the lines, and apparently, I turned to her and said, “But Mrs. Green, people don’t come with outlines.” She proudly told me, she instantly knew I’d end up being either a philosopher or an artist.

My interest turned to a passion when I was in my early teens and feeling isolated and bullied at high school. It, along with reading, writing, and watching movies, were my form of escapism—much healthier than drugs or alcohol!

My area of specialty in art is sculpture and installation art—though, I love life drawing and portraiture as well. Because of my love of the written word, I often incorporate text into my work. I always carry notebooks in my handbag which are filled with quotes, lyrics, paragraphs from books, speeches, you name it, if it resonates with me, I jot it down.

A few years ago several things happened at once in my life: I injured my shoulder in a car accident, the last of my children left home, and an unresolved issue from my past reared its ugly head and managed to pull the rug out from under me. I didn’t feel comfortable going to a counselor to talk about it all, and so I decided to write about it instead. That first bit of writing, though therapeutic, was quite dark and difficult, and so I started writing How the Light Gets In (tentative release date of June or July 2013) I suppose you could say, it was therapy for my therapy! And I’ve been writing ever since.

On a side note, I still abhor outlines, boxes, and labels!

You wrote a great post on your blog regarding fanfiction and the stigma attached to it. What advice would you give to former or current fanfiction writers who may be afraid to step out and write original fiction, fearing backlash or not being taken seriously?

Thank you, M. I stand by what I said in that post—the avenue for writers, or would-be writers, to learn and refine their skills is changing. Just as the internet has changed many other industries, and the way we approach things such as buying merchandise, paying bills, or even the simple act of writing a letter, so too is it having a revolutionary effect on the world of publishing and the writing profession. And as I pointed out in my post, some wonderful acclaimed novels and poems have borrowed from the writings of other authors. Inspiration comes in many guises!

I am but newly published, and so, perhaps, not really in a position to advise, but for what it’s worth, I think this applies to any creative endeavor which is put in a public forum. The world is a diverse place. Go in knowing that some people are going to love what you do, some are not going to care one way or the other, and yes, there will be those who will hate it.

The internet offers anonymity which gives many the cover they need to say things they wouldn’t have the gumption to say to your face. Remember that those who say the meanest things are probably unhappy with themselves and their lives and hate anyone who is happy, and taking a chance and working toward achieving their dream. Happy people don’t feel the need to tear someone else down. Read their criticisms and try to separate valid critiques of your writing from personal attacks and rants – learn from the former and let go of the latter. Remind yourself to celebrate the victories and learn from the setbacks. And remember: No statue has ever been erected to a critic; they are a dime-a-dozen. Writers, or at least their words, are priceless, and monuments have been erected to those that could craft their words well. Balzac, Hemingway, Tolstoy, to name but a few—all of whom had their share of detractors as well as fans. The world needs new writers, filmmakers, artists, and musicians. It’s hungry for fresh and original new visions, characters, and stories, so take your inspiration from whichever fandom captured you, and make it your own. Take it in a new direction and do it to the best of your ability, and who knows, maybe, just maybe, you will be writing the classic of tomorrow.

When your sense of self-worth comes from the voices and opinions of others you make yourself their slave. Never, and I really do mean, never sacrifice yourself to another. Be true to yourself, your goals, and your beliefs. Remember the difference between who you are versus what you do. To be a writer is who you are. Things like having a job, washing dishes, walking the dog, reading a book; these are things you do.

Personally, I regularly read quotes from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Her main protagonist – Howard Roark – is one of my heroes. Here’s one of my favorites: "Where I can think of nothing and feel nothing except that I designed that temple. I built it. Nothing else can seem very important."

"You shouldn't have built it. You shouldn't have delivered it to the sort of thing they're doing."

"That doesn't matter. Not even that they'll destroy it. Only that it had existed.”

Only that it had existed.” There, contained in that one line is the sentiment I try and remember—I try to hang on to the knowledge that taking something as ephemeral as an idea and turning into something that is real, something that can be seen, read, heard, and held is the achievement; not how it is perceived by each and every individual who comes into contact with it. If I am true to myself and my characters, it will resonate with an audience, no matter how small, somewhere.

Authors find their muse in various places, people, things, etc. Where do you find yours?

Is it too broad to say everywhere? Honestly, it’s so varied – an overheard conversation while sitting on a train, seeing a couple interact at a restaurant, a photograph, a line from a song, my own past experiences, a shop display.

Stripped Bare was inspired by two things: a poem by William Ernest Henley, which I stumbled across as a teenager. It’s called Invictus and it so resonates with me that it’s found its way into each and every one of my notebooks. I’ve even thought about having two lines from it tattooed on my lower back! The second inspiration was my daughter’s irreverent parrot.

In broad terms, How the Light Gets In was inspired by the Leonard Cohen quote: There’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in. It too, speaks to me—it tells me it’s okay to be a little damaged and broken. It’s okay to be a little flawed. Individual scenes within the novel, however, may have been inspired by other things such as a song or poem. The, ah, inspired description of a certain hangover, though, may have been my own **cough cough** I think my daughter let Oliver the potty-mouthed parrot loose

Your new release, Gay as Mardi Gras, is story about a man discovering his sexuality and love while on a cruise. How did you come up with that idea?

This is going to sound weird, but from my retired parents singing the praises of the Holland America Cruise Line after they went on one of their cruises! Yes, a heterosexual couple in their seventies inspired a gay love story!

As I sat there with the rest of the family, listening to them relating one story after another about their trip, and bombarding us with a never-ending supply of photos, a naughty, curious thought popped into my head. I wondered how it would feel to be the one straight guy on a gay cruise. By the time my daughter was driving me home, Jesse was born and chattering away to me. So as not to repeat myself and bore everyone, anyone wanting to read the full story of that night should see my guest blog on Andrew Q Gordon’s blog.

Having read the book myself, I feel that you effectively balanced realism with sweet romanticism. How were you able to do that?

Why, thank you, M. I’m thrilled you think so!

I research a lot – and not just via a library or Google. As an artist, I am an avid observer of people and life. I try to really listen to a person and not merely hear their voice. I may create a character, but it doesn’t take long for him (or her) to develop a voice of their own in my head. My job is to stay true to that voice.

As far as romanticism goes, I think love inspires most of us, male or female, to step out of our comfort zone and take a chance. It gives us the courage to say and do things we might not have thought ourselves capable of. True love is so powerful, it changes us, makes us braver, and kinder. It makes us gentle and tender and protective. Isn’t that why so many of us want to read about it?

If there is one thing you could say to Jesse while he was "discovering" himself, what would it be?

Be brave and follow your heart. Better to regret having done something than to live with a ‘what if’.

Are Jesse and Daniel two characters you may revisit in the future? *hint hint*

Well, they’re still eager participants at the dinner party called the inside of my head, so it’s definitely a possibility! They’d certainly like to chat more!

What do you enjoy most about the M/M genre?

Wow, that’s a tough one. There are so many things I enjoy about it. I like men, and so yes, I love to read about them, but it’s more than that.

I’m a bit of a tomboy. My whole life I’ve often been the one girlfriend/wife in the group who was welcome on a boys’ night out or weekend away. Not because I drink like a fish (I’m actually a real lightweight in that area) but more because I don’t mind getting dirty hiking through the bush, or roughing it camping in the middle of nowhere. I don’t care if I don’t have access to a hairdryer or make-up or if I have to pee behind a bush. I’m laughing at myself right now – I sound feral! My point is, I enjoy men’s company.

I like the interaction between men; they’re dialogue is, in many ways, more honest than women’s. I’m going to generalize a bit here so please forgive me. A lot of women tend to talk around things, allude to things, rather than just spit it out. We care about feelings, and hence, often phrase things diplomatically. We leave gaps in our conversations for the other person to fill in, same as we read between the lines of what is being said to us.

Men are more direct. They say what they mean, and for the most part, are not as concerned about being diplomatic. Certainly, when speaking to their girlfriends/lovers/wives many have learned to adopt a woman’s way of talking. I mean, most men like sex, and so telling their woman her ass looks fat in those jeans (even if it is the truth) ain’t going to win them any brownie points in the bedroom! But between each other, man to man, they are more to the point, blunt even.

As odd as it may seem, I like that. I find it refreshing. I like the lack of ambiguity – except when they do tell me my ass looks fat…

What is your writing process?

I’ve read some of your other interviews, M, and I must admit, I envy some of those authors. They write chronologically, and don’t read over and edit what they’ve written until the story is told in its entirety. I wish I could write that way.

For me it’s more like my characters and I are at a dinner party, and there’s lots of conversation happening around the table. My main character might relate in great detail a story about what happened to him the previous weekend, to which I avidly listen. This in turn might spark him to remember something from his more distant past which he decides to share as well. And so it goes on, jumping back and forth from the present to the past and back again.

What this means for my storytelling is that I write key scenes and then need to ask my character how he got from point A to point B. So far this has worked for me and my boys, but I’m the first to admit, it’s not the most efficient style of writing.

What are some of the more difficult aspects of being a published author and how have you overcome them?

The waiting. LOL

Let’s see, firstly, most publishers take somewhere between 6-12 weeks to review a submission. If they decide to publish your story it then has to go through two editorial processes, cover art production, preparation of a back cover blurb, a galley has to be prepared and proof read, and if it is also going to be a paperback as well as an e-book, printing has to be organized. Time wise this equates to approximately six months from the time of signing the contract to the release date. Trust me, it’s hard to wait that long to see your words in print! Especially if you’re as impatient as me! I’ve decided this is the universe’s way of teaching me patience (mind you, nothing else has worked!)

Different genres have different challenges, and thus far, I can only speak for the M/M genre. Currently it’s a small (but growing) niche market, and so most authors within it find it necessary to do a lot of self-promotion in order to create a bit of awareness for their stories. It helps to be a bit savvy about the social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc. as they help to develop a base of loyal readers. I constantly battle with myself over this, as time spent online is time I’m not writing, and anyone who knows me will tell you what an absolute fail I am when it comes to the social media.

On the whole, though, it’s been a rewarding experience, and if other publishing houses are like Dreamspinner Press, then they hold your hand throughout the entire process. I have only one regret – I wish I’d plucked up the courage to submit something sooner!


Thanks so much to Lily for this great interview! Read and excerpt from Gay as Mardi Gras here and check out my review of the book here. Also, check out her blog for more information about Lily and her upcoming works.


  1. Thank you for having me, M! It's been a pleasure.



    1. You're welcome!!! Thank YOU for such a great interview! :D

  2. Great interview for sure! M, your questions allowed us to get to know Lily even better and I, for one, appreciated knowing more about the person behind the characters.

    I can see you being an "out of the box" person. To be an artist and creative, you have to think that way. I love how you embrace your inner thoughts and let your characters talk to you. I want to be included at one of those dinner parties one day! I get a feeling that you have a strong sense of who you are and this confidence comes out in your characters as they find out who they are. I've read the excerpts and bought GAMG; now I'm looking forward to sitting on my couch and go on a little cruise....

    1. Skylar, I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview and I really appreciate your kind words. There are more author spotlights on the horizon, so I hope you'll stop by again in the future! :)