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Inspiration – Something Like Winter

Model Bruno SantosOne thing I absolutely adore is when readers send me songs, saying “This one made me think of your book.” I used to do the same as a reader, discovering by chance a song with lyrics or vibe that suited a favorite story. I still do this as a writer, but in reverse. I’ll find a new tune that sets a certain mood, one that I want to capture and insert into one of my novels. Something Like Winter had quite a few songs that helped inspire it, one of my favorites being Bizarre Love Triangle by a little band called Ghost Ghost. Many of you have commented on the couch scene in the second half of the book. We have the below song to thank for it.

For me, the song encapsulates perfectly that desperate feeling of being the third wheel. Some of the lyrics suit Ben, some suit Tim, and you won’t have to dig deep to figure out that I took direct inspiration from a few of the lines. If you dig this song, you can learn more about the album or listen to all the tracks for free right here.
Speaking of art inspiring art (inspiring art!) there’s another musician by the name of Gavin Beach, who is not only gay and adorable, but has the most phenomenal voice ever. Sometimes I listen to him and imagine Ben Bentley sounds much the same. The second coolest part? While in the middle of reading Something Like Summer, he recorded the following cover, and he later told me the story was on his mind at the time:

Gorgeous! The mostest coolest part? His singing contributed to Something Like Winter. I couldn’t stop listening to Gavin’s cover. I listened to it when getting in the mood to write, and this song along with many of Gavin’s other videos, were playing while Andreas worked on the book’s cover. In other words, we’re big fans. Gavin is working on recording some original tunes, so be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel to keep up with this shooting star.

For Love of Evil-Piers AnthonyAnother big… okay, tremendously HUGE inspiration in my life has been Piers Anthony and his books. They’ve influenced my personal life and my writing. Each of my fantasy novels borrows something from his stories I grew up reading, and in a weird way, so does Something Like Winter. Piers has a series called The Incarnations of Immortality. Each book was about a personified force of nature, such as Death, War, Fate, and the like. The villain in each book was the Devil. Pretty cool, especially the 6th book in the series, which is from the Devil’s perspective. In that book we learn about his early life, what motivates him and makes him tick, and then we relive all those villainous moments, but through his eyes. The twist is, the Devil has a very good reason for doing all those things that appeared evil in the other books. Brilliant! While I didn’t want to make Tim seem like a saint, since that wouldn’t be honest, I did want to provide that same “A-ha, now I get it!” feeling where his actions are at least understandable, and maybe a little forgivable.

That’s it for this time around. There’s plenty more that inspired me, like that photo of Bruno Santos up top, or The Maltese Falcon, since Marcello and The Fat Man share a deliciously offbeat charm. I could go on and on, but I’d rather go listen to more music, seek out more art, and keep working on my next release. Curious what it’s about? Stay tuned!

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Inspiration – From Darkness to Darkness

ColeWhen I wrote The Cat in the Cradle way back in 1863, there wasn’t a lot of music and images that inspired me as I worked. I suppose my fascination with the color spectrum was a definite influence, and I know my lifelong love of Pier’s Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series was a definite inspiration. Aside from that, the process was much different than with my later books. With From Darkness to Darkness, I started out with an image of Cole, as you can see on the left. A little bit emo and a lot a bit hot, having a photo like this was very inspiring for the character’s mood and demeanor. I don’t know the model’s name, unfortunately, but having a starting point for one of the main characters was very helpful.

Music is always a huge influence when I write. I can’t stand having it on while I’m working, but I’ll often play different songs beforehand to get in the right mood. This time, Alphaville’s Inside Out had the right vibe. The lyrics seem to be about a relationship that took a wrong turn, perhaps due to a twist of fate.

“And always I think where we might have gone, if we’d never met inside this song.”

That’s very suiting to the events of the plot, since both Cole and Dylan spend some time pondering what could have been. Naturally this song is also where I took the book’s title. I had this track and another called New Horizons playing on frequent rotation while working on this story. I obsessively hammered out the first draft in under a month, which I believe remains the fastest I’ve written any book. Something about writing fantasy leaves me exhausted, but I hope a similar fever overtakes me someday for a third installment.

NatashaGetting back to pretty pretty faces, I also had model inspiration for Natasha. She doesn’t have a large part in The Cat in the Cradle, but I enjoyed writing her enough that I wanted to give Natasha a bigger role in From Darkness to Darkness. Probably the biggest downside to writing gay romance is the main protagonist always being male. I suppose there are some creative ways around this, and I should probably take advantage of them. I’ve been blessed to have numerous strong and talented females in my life, and I’m always channeling them when I write characters like Natasha. She might appear timid or insecure at first glance, but she knows who she is, and by the end of the novel, I pity anyone that stands in her way.

The Loka Legends series feels a little bit like a pet project to me. My contemporary romances might occasionally draw on autobiographical events, but this fantasy series is like a letter to my younger self. He grew up devouring such books, and in a way I’m doing my best to entertain him. “Hey, check out these crazy magical powers and the talking cat! By the way, it’s okay to be gay and people like you can find love and have a meaningful relationship. Oh, and be sure to check out the illustrations. You’ll never guess who drew them all!” Until I get my time machine up and running, I can’t be sure if angsty younger Jay would appreciate my efforts or not, but hopefully these stories speak to the hearts of many people, no matter how young or old they might be.

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Inspiration – Kamikaze Boys

Simon Nessman makes a perfect David HenryA long time ago, in a galaxy exactly like this one, I was a big fish in a very small pond. That pond was called Warrensburg, Missouri, and for a twelve-year-old, I thought I was hot shit. Then a job transfer brought my family to The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb just outside of Houston, and the game changed completely. I was still rocking my California Raisins T-shirts (yeah…) while the other kids in my class were sporting designer fashion labels. Painful story short, I went from big shot to big target. In retrospect, I’m glad. I needed a healthy dose of humility and probably would have ended up a royal asshole otherwise. Unfortunately, this lesson came at a price. I was pummeled on the playground regularly by a bully that makes Chuck Bryl look brave. My bully paid other kids to rough me up. I took as much as I could from him and others. Then I started going crazy in the most destructive way possible. These experiences were the inspiration for Kamikaze Boys.

David Henry from Kamikaze Boys by Jay BellThe true story is more complex, drawn out over many years, but the gist of it can be found between the printed sheets. While not truly autobiographical, Kamikaze Boys tells that story of wanting to lash out at the world and finding a partner that is just as willing to join those destructive impulses. An author drawing inspiration from his past is hardly surprising, so let’s check out some of the images and sounds that helped get my creative juices bubbling. When prepping for this book, I sought out photos of models that resembled the characters in my imagination. David was the most successful in this regard. The photo I stared at most can be found above. The model is Simon Nessman, who with his delightfully curly hair, sensitive eyes, and luscious lips, is the perfect combination of nerdy and hot. (Now we’ve clearly stepped away from autobiographical elements!) Simon looks a lot cooler in most of his model shots, but as a bonus, I found a few images of him that look like a more confident David, perhaps after basking in the Florida sun.

Speaking of Florida, I name-drop a song in the book as Connor and David are on their way down. If you haven’t heard Empire of the Sun’s debut album, it’s a wild trip. There’s a lot of weird stuff going down musically in Australia lately. I’m loving that movement and hope it takes the world by storm. Chances are you’ve heard the song I played on a loop while writing this book. If not, check out “We Are the People” and see if it clicks with you at all. I can totally imagine David dancing to this, or him and Connor cruising off into the sunset with this in the background.

It's Connor Williams! Sort of...Creating Connor was a bit different than the process I used for David. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that part of him comes straight from reality television. A well-meaning series called Jamie’s Dream School had troubled teens getting another shot at an education with very mixed results. One of the participants, Henry, caught my eye. His persona had little in common with Connor’s, but I sure liked his appearance. The weird thing is, the more I wrote Connor, the less I imagined him looking like Henry. I’m including a few images anyway, so you can see where I started, but the Connor in my mind is rougher around the edges. And of course he has that awesome scar.

Hey, he's got the angry thing down!Connor’s theme comes straight from the eighties and is sung by Billy Idol of all people. In an odd example of synchronicity, shortly after Connor started calling David “Sweet Sixteen,” I began hearing Billy Idol’s song by that same name on the radio. A lot. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d ever heard it before, even in the eighties. But it’s a pretty cool tune, and at the time, the lyrics matched where I intended the plot to go. Plans and people change, but I still love the vibe of this song. Check out Billy strumming his guitar below.

So those were the biggest influences on my writing this time around. Feel free to apply mind bleach if any of this conflicts with what you imagined while reading. In fact, if there’s anything you associate with Kamikaze Boys, no matter the media, I’d love to hear about it!

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What’s in a Name?

The Many Loves of Benjamin Bentley: A cover from an alternate realityLast week, a handful of people happened to ask why I decided to name Something Like Summer what I did. To me, this coincidence was the cosmos saying “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!” And explain I will.

I’ve often said I’d rather write an entire book than a single synopsis. The same applies to choosing a title for a book. It’s so incredibly hard to sum up an entire story with just a few words. Impossible, really, so the best you can do is create an evocative title that makes a potential reader want to learn more. The working title of Something Like Summer was The Many Loves of Benjamin Bentley. A little long, but I liked it. Originally I planned on showing many more of Ben’s failed relationships, but then Tim and Jace ended up hogging the book. I was tempted to use the title anyway, until The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button came out. Thieving Hollywood bastards! Suddenly I needed a new title. Thus began a month of me pestering anyone that would listen: Friends over email and phone, the checkout lady at the grocery store, and even Andreas in the bedroom. Inevitably, each clever title we thought up was already taken.

Not a romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-LevittThen inspiration struck. Twelve Years of Summer. Perfect! Or so I thought. As a professional hermit, I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the world. My editor saved me/broke my spirit when she informed me of a recent movie called (500) Days of Summer. This time Hollywood had beat me to the punch. Their title was just close enough to make me appear a copycat—or worse—that I had written a parody. Back to the drawing board. I ate psychedelic mushrooms, fasted except for chewing gum, and conversed solely with small pebbles. Then I came up with it. Something Like Summer. But what does it mean? I recently posed this question on Twitter, and these are some of the replies:

@WanderingReclus (MacKenzie Stewart) said: “I thought the title meant to symbolize the heat and intensity of Ben and Tim’s relationship.”

@ladykatana70 (Stacia Hess) added: “because it makes you hot and sweaty..lol”

These two responses show why I wanted “summer” in the title. Summer conjures up visions of passion, heat, and sweat. The book is more romantic than erotic, but these associations also apply to intense emotion. But does the title mean more? Here are more responses:

@rolypolywoly (Alan) said: “Thought it might be ‘Something Like Summer’ ’cause the summer Ben & Tim meet is a starting point that reverberates through the story.”

@TaylorSalley (Taylor Salley) said: “Because summer is something really good that we all have a hard time letting go of. Much like Ben and Tim’s relationship.”

Leave a question for the reader to answer, and chances are, they’ll come up with something brilliant. I love the symbolism that these readers picked up on. I’m tempted to lie and say that’s exactly what I intended. My answer is much simpler. To me, summer is the time of year that I feel the best, both physically and emotionally. Perfect blue sky days when the sun warms my skin and makes the world beautiful—those summer moments make me feel sixteen again. There’s only one other thing that makes me feel so blissfully content. Love is something like summer.

There it is, my personal interpretation of the title, but that doesn’t make it true. The book has been set free and is out there in the world, romping through fields of imagination that no longer belong to me, and that’s how it should be. The title means what you want it to mean, and the story now belongs to you.

Er… Not legally of course. 😉

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Inspiration – Hell’s Pawn

Archangel UrielIt’s hard to pin down just when and where Hell’s Pawn took root in my mind. When I was a kid, Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series introduced me to the concept of Purgatory and a contemporary take on the afterlife. I later made a study of mythology and religion in my teens which was obviously a huge influence, and in my twenties, my best friend shared with me his idea for a story. His story must have sunk into my subconscious, because when I emailed him excitedly about my “brand new book idea,” he very patiently pointed out that I had rehashed many of his own ideas. Embarrassing but true. That’s just one of the many reasons the book is dedicated to him.

Those were the cornerstones of Hell’s Pawn, but there were plenty of inspirations that came while actually writing the book. Music is always an influence. Every book I’ve written has its theme—a song I play to get me in the right mood. I discovered the song for Hell’s Pawn halfway through writing and while binging on a German group called Alphaville. Their song, For a Million, is every bit as weird as my story and some of the lyrics fit all too well.

“For a million years they dream
And the fog conceals and hides
and eats our souls
Before they open up their eyes again
How far we’ll be”

I mentioned weird, right? This verse reminds me of the foggy hidden underbelly of Purgatory, or the poor souls trapped in the dome surrounding it, sleeping until someone can free them. Then there was this verse:

“Oh I love to dance
Under an alien sun
Along the dunes with you
I kiss you in the sand”

I had already finished writing the Egyptian part of the story, but I liked the idea of Rimmon and John dancing along the dunes together and added it to the narrative. Did they kiss there? Man, I don’t think they did, but you know John wanted to. And then there are lines about time running out, about refusing to stop loving someone, even if you have to leave them behind… but the story does a better job explaining that than I could here.

Speaking of love, check out that handsome angel up there! That’s Archangel Uriel. Although his part in the story is small, I stared long and hard at this image while thinking about angels. I loved that his wings are colored instead of boring white, which encouraged me to make all the angels that way. Just think how pretty they would be if they had feathers like tropical birds instead of boring old white.

BoloAnd finally, down the street from our apartment in Berlin was a small copy shop. Bobby the English Shepherd worked there. Okay, so his owners did, but I would often make an excuse to have something printed, hand the files over, and spend the next ten minutes rolling around on the floor with him. I’ve always loved dogs—even though it’s been awhile since I had my own—so I was very happy to give John some animal companionship in the form of Bolo.

As you can see from these few examples, there are all kinds of inspirations that contribute to a story’s creation. Every sexy demon, little ceramic soldier, or seedy coffee shop in Amsterdam has their own anchor to the real world, which just goes to show how strange reality can be when you tell the story in the right way.

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Inspiration – Something Like Summer revisited

Tim Wyman collegeA reader recently wrote me (hey Daren!) expressing an interest in other songs and images that inspired Something Like Summer. I have a previous blog entry about some of those inspirations, but there are indeed more sources not listed there. Let’s start with another hot image of Tim Wyman. Well, model Bruno Santos really. The photo you see to the left was the one I kept looking to during the college years. I gave him a haircut for the book, because I’ve always loved spiky hair, but that’s Tim all right. For me at least. Unfortunately I still haven’t stumbled on photos that truly remind me of Ben or Jace, which is especially frustrating in Jace’s case. I can see him see so clearly in my mind that I must have seen him somewhere, but I don’t know where.

As for other songs that inspired me, my descriptions of them get spoilerish. If you haven’t read the book yet, turn back now if you don’t want to know!

The first is Do You Sleep by Lisa Loeb, which gets me every time. This was the background tune to the end of Ben and Tim’s time together in highschool. There are a couple of scenes that are transparently taken from this song. Some lines I imagine Ben singing, some are Tim’s, but I feel it really resonates with how their relationship was falling apart.

(click here if the above doesn’t work)

The next song is sort of Jace’s theme. To me it’s about Ben needing him, and later missing him. The music itself reminds me of Jace’s character, kind of ritzy, classy, and offbeat, but also a little sad at times. “I have this picture hanging in my room, and I refuse to take you down…” This one is by Duran Duran and called We Need You.

Finally, we have another song by The Fold. The first inspiration article has a song by them as well, Faster Still, which was sort of the anthem of the novel. The song below, I Know You Well, represents the end of the story. No, not that part, but afterwards, when Tim is driving Ben home from the gallery. In the song Faster Still is a line “As I look into your eyes, I don’t know you any better” which is a doubt Ben shares at the end of the college years. This song is Tim’s answer and promise, as they cruise away into their happily ever after.

So there you have it, another set images and sounds by talented artists that helped fuel my words. I’m not sure if these resonate with you like they do me, but it’s safe to say that Something Like Summer wouldn’t have been the same without them. On that note, let’s end with one more photo of Tim Wyman. Just because.

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