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Best-selling gay romance writer T. J. (Travis John) Klune (Bear, Otter, and the Kid) recently popped the question to fellow popular romance author Eric Arvin (Woke Up in a Strange Place) at the 2013 GayRomLit conference (GRL) in Atlanta, Georgia.
T. J. Klune’s books consistently list among the top 20 gay romances on the reader review site www.goodreads.com and include the romantic comedy Tell Me It’s Real and the supernatural romance Into This River I Drown, both out this year from Dreamspinner Press. Klune’s Bear, Otter, and the Kid, also from Dreamspinner, was listed by Amazon.com as one of the top 100 books published in 2011. Eric Arvin’s recently released The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men from Wilde City Press has been met with wide acclaim as a masterpiece of gay fiction. His Woke Up in a Strange Place from Dreamspinner Press won the 2011 TLA Gaybie award for best speculative fiction.
When I interviewed Klune and Arvin, Klune said that it was Arvin’s Strange Place that brought the two together.
T.J. Klune: I read Woke Up In A Strange Place shortly after my first novel Bear, Otter, and the Kid came out in 2011. I was amazed by the depth of the work and was shocked that more people hadn’t read it. I made it a personal goal to make more people aware of Eric’s book, because I thought it had an elegance to it missing from most other books in the genre. I wrote a review on it. He read the review and wrote a thank you note to me. And that’s when I began to close the snare and land myself a man.
How did you first meet? Tell me about the first date–was it the stuff of romance novels?
Eric Arvin: Awww, isn’t he sweet? We chatted for a while online, but we didn’t meet face-to-face until GRL 2012 in Albuquerque. I remember walking into the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and seeing him for the first time and he just lit up the room. He’s got such a wonderful smile and when he gets nervous he does this cute little scarecrow skip. I was at once smitten. The next three days counted as our first, second and third dates.
When did you know this guy was the one?
Eric: Christmas 2012, a couple months after GRL. We had just finished watching a movie–I’m thinking Paranormal Activity–and we kissed. The lights were off and everything just felt right. Plus, the place we were staying was most assuredly haunted. We clung to each other like our lives depended on it.
T.J.: Superficially? Those freaking biceps the size of my head. Holy Jeebus. In a more romantic sense? Those freaking biceps.
Eric : That nervous little skip he does is adorable. And he does have a cute butt. Years of soccer, don’t you know?
Where did Eric get those ‘guns’?
Eric: I’m a fitness nut. Have been since I was a wee gay and I got my hands on a copy of Exercise For Men Only. Being as obsessed with working out as I am has actually saved my life. When I had my brain surgery to remove a cavernous hemangioma that was wrapped around my medulla, my recovery astonished the doctors. I will work out as long as I have the ability to do it.
T.J.: I like watching Eric work out and will do so for as long as I have the ability to do it.
T.J., why did you propose so publicly?
Klune: I chose GayRomLit because it was the first place we’d met and I wanted to do something memorable for him. It also helped that we were surrounded by a group of our close friends and readers. There were readers of mine in the audience that I’ve known longer than I’ve known Eric.
Did you feel nervous that Eric might say no?
T.J.: I wasn’t too worried about him saying no. I was more worried about vomiting on him in front of everyone because I was so damn nervous.
When is the Big Day?
T.J.: We haven’t set a day yet, though, the official plan is to have a Star Wars themed wedding. And if Eric says we’re not having a Star Wars themed wedding, just know he has a problem with lying.
Eric: We’re not having a Star Wars themed wedding.
T.J.: See?! He lies with his lying mouth!
Will you get married in a legal state?
T.J.: I just recently moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia for work and Eric moved in with me just a week ago. We are busy merging our stuff and putting our house together the way we want it–Read: the way I want it; Eric then moves everything the way he wants it. We hope to marry in a legal state–come on, Virginia!–but if it doesn’t happen here soon, Washington D.C. is only a forty-minute drive away and we can get legally married there.
How old are both of you? Where did you both grow up? What is your family/social/cultural background?
T.J.: I am 31 years old. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Oregon. If I had to pinpoint my family’s social/cultural background, it’s probably politically incorrect to say we were upper white trash. But that’s what we were. Represent.
Eric: I am 38. He is 31. Together, we are indestructible!
I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana called Hanover. Many of my stories are set there or a fictionalized version thereof. My family was not well-off. I have three brothers and three sisters, but I never grew up thinking we were poor. Whatever we needed we found somehow. I had great parents. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, so it wasn’t easy being gay. I quit the religion when I was 17.
Woke Up in A Strange Place explores a non-traditional vision of the afterlife; what would you say about your current spiritual practice?
Eric: I believe we all have our own Eternal Minute. We are the creators of our own fates. The mind is an immense thing. It can create worlds and lifetimes.
Similarly, TJ, Into This River I Drown also explores the supernatural. What are your spiritual beliefs?
T.J.: Into This River I Drown was written as more of an ode to my father than anything else. The supernatural was secondary to the idea that regardless if you lack faith in a higher power, that higher power still has faith in you. If anything, I’d describe myself as an agnostic. I haven’t quite made up my mind as of yet.
T.J., in your Bear, Otter, and the Kid (BOATK) series (which includes Who We Are, Dreamspinner Press, 2012), you write about a relationship centered on raising a young child. Do you and Eric want to have children?
T.J.: You should have seen the look on my face when I read this question out loud. I then may have slightly shrieked at Eric and said, “He wants to know if we want children?!?!” No, we don’t have kids. We have a cat. And we want to get a dog. That’s the extent of the responsibility I think I can handle. It’s probably better that way. The world does not need miniature versions of me running around. I’d give it a week before civilization descended into complete and utter anarchy.
T.J.: I try to write at least two thousand words a day. If those words come at morning or night, it doesn’t matter to me, just as long as I get them out. I’m a bit of a lazy writer too, so it helps me to have a set routine and word count to get to before the day is done.
Eric: I write sporadically throughout the day, whenever an idea or inspiration strikes. I can’t just sit down in front of the laptop and start writing. Sometimes an idea will hit me in a dream; I’ll wake up and have to jot it down somewhere.
When did each of you start writing? Are you able to support yourself by your writing, and, if not, what are your “day jobs”?
T.J.: I started writing when I was just a wee slip of a lad. I was published in a few local books for short stories and poetry I’d written. And my readers will love the irony of me being published for writing poetry.
One day soon I hope to be able to write full time. My readership is reaching the point where it’s becoming a possibility. Currently, I work in a soul-sucking cubicle as a claims adjuster for an insurance company whose commercials you probably hate.
Eric: I started writing at a very young age. I remember the thrill of seeing my words bound in a book in the Young Authors program. I wrote a murder mystery called “Hotel” which contained a plethora of fabulous characters, most of them inspired by Madeline Kahn in Clue. As of this moment I am a full-time writer. So, yes, I’m poor.
What are your current projects?
T.J.: I just finished writing the third book in the BOATK series. It’s called The Art Of Breathing and follows the story of Tyson and Dominic.
Most recently, Eric and I published the first of our co-written zombie stories for Wilde City Press’s Zombie Boyz called Ghoul’s Gym. It’s the start of a five-book series following the same group of characters.
Additionally, I’m halfway into writing a dark romance set in a post-apocalyptic America called To Darkly Shine. Now that I’ve finished the BOATK sequel, I will be getting back to that.
Eric: I am currently writing a story about a mining community and how it reacts when one of the young miners reveals he is gay. It’s a slice of life comedy called “Life in a Miner Town.”
This has been a busy year for me. Most recently I’ve had Azrael and The Light Bringer— the prequel to The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men–published through Wilde City Press.
Coming out next year, I have my horror novel The Rascal, the reprint of my first book The Rest Is Illusion, (originally published by Booklocker.com Inc, 2006) my spec-fic epic, Terms We Have For Dreaming, and my ghost story, Wave Goodbye to Charlie.
You are both prolific writers, which of your books would you recommend a reader to start with to get the best sense of your work? Which is your favorite?
T.J.: The best sense of the type of writer I aspire to be is probably found in Into This River I Drown. It’s markedly different from my other books as it’s written with a more lyrical, almost poetic, structure in mind. It’s probably the more difficult of my books as well, given the subject matter. But I like the technicality of the work.
My personal favorite from a story perspective is probably Tell Me It’s Real. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to showing just how my mind works and the sheer and utter insanity therein. And I love comedy because you have to have certain a cadence and rhythm to it in order to pull off the jokes.
Eric: I love the epic feel of The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men. I think that would be the one I would recommend to anyone who is looking to read my work. It was a story that came from a deeper, darker place inside me and took ten years to write and get right. I write lighter fare, like the Jasper Lane novels (Subsurdity, Suburbilicious, and SuburbNight—all from Dreamspinner Press) but it’s Mingled and Azrael and The Light Bringer that hold a special place in my heart. Those, along with Woke Up in a Strange Place, are my favorite personal works.
Romance, more than other genres, seems to lend itself to co-authored books, any plans to write a novel together?
T.J.:That’s where our zombie books come in. We will be continuing that story and by the time the story is all told, it should be the length of a couple of novels put together.
Do you feel jealous if you read a sex scene in each other’s books and the protagonist doesn’t look like you? Or do you ever wonder, “Why doesn’t he do that with me?”
T.J.: The last remotely sexual scene Eric wrote was in Ghoul’s Gym, our zombie story, and a zombie fisted a gym bunny and the arm broke off inside the gym bunny’s ass. No, I don’t ever wonder why he doesn’t do that to me.
Eric: Ha! Naw. I would feel weird if one of Teej’s heroes looked like me. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to, one of his creations.
What do you find most challenging about the romance publishing business?
T.J.: The thing I think is the most challenging about the romance world today, specifically the m/m world, is that there seems to be a focus more on quantity rather than quality. It seems like authors are pushing a book out every couple of weeks and the readers are rejecting them more and more as the stories are lacking. I would rather write one good book every two years then release ten mediocre books in a single year.
Eric: The publishing world in general is a mean old dragon. The worst part about it for me is all the promo. In an ideal world I’d write something, turn it in to the editor, and they would set up all the signings, etcetera.
I first listened to Bear, Otter, and the Kid and Woke Up in a Strange Place in their wonderful audio-book formats.
Eric: My first audio-book happened by chance. I am acquainted with actor/writer Charlie David and he expressed interest in recording Simple Men. I was delighted when it happened. Since then Charlie has done many other books for Dreamspinner Press, including T.J.’s Who We Are and my own Woke Up in a Strange Place.
T.J.: I’ve been fortunate enough to have two fantastic narrators in Sean Crisden and Charlie David. They did an amazing job.
Will either of you have books coming to the Big Screen anytime soon? Who is your dream cast?
Eric: No movie options. There was a time when The Rest Is Illusion looked like it was going to get made, and there was also a teleplay based on Subsurdity, but they both fell through.
T.J.: To be honest, I haven’t given much thought to a film version of Bear, Otter, and the Kid or rather, to the actors that would play them. I think I’d want it to be a cast filled with unknowns, so as to not be distracted by celebrity.
What do you do to re-create?
Eric: I’m a huge music fan. Many of my stories got their start from a song or a line from a song. I’m convinced I was a musician in a past existence.
What was your play list for Crocodiles and Men?
Eric: I was hoping you’d ask me this. My playlist for Mingled Destinies is a long one, having been written over ten years, but some of the songs included are: “Roscoe” by Midlake, “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes, “Lost River” by Murder By Death, “Rangers” by A Fine Frenzy, “I Love You” by Woodkid, “Summerday” by Dar Williams, “Maybe Sparrow” by Neko Case, and “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire.
For Azrael the list includes “The Memory of Trees” by Enya, “Ragged Wood” by Fleet Foxes, “River Man” by Nick Drake, “The Wheel” by Rosanne Cash, and “Rooks” by Shearwater among many others. I also use a lot of film scores as inspiration, including “Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Piano, Angels in America, and anything by Thomas Newman.
T.J., does music inspire your writing?
T.J.: When I first wrote BOATK, I wasn’t musically inclined, but with subsequent books, I released playlists for each. River is my favorite playlist because it’s the longest, and it also has the most eclectic songs for it. I am a big fan of Florence + The Machine and a band called Red, both of which I listen to heavily while writing.
And what do you do for your down time?
T.J.: I have a horrible obsession with movies. I probably have close to a thousand DVDs. My favorite film is something that changes weekly. If I had to be pinned down right now to say what it is, I’d probably have to say Creature From The Black Lagoon. I have an unabashed love of black and white horror movies, and Creature is the pinnacle for me.
Creature From The Black Lagoon is oddly gay, and I suppose it can be twisted as a sort of allegory for the views on homosexuality at the time. But it’s probably even more oddly gay because the character I identify the most with is Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence because I wish I could pull off the swimsuit she wears in the movie.