Tris: Erik, before we talk about your writing, would tell us a little about who you are and what made you the person we have here today?
Erik: Let me thank you first for inviting me to appear on your website, and congratulations for your amazing success with On My Knees. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet but it’s definitely on my To-Read List.
My mother says I’m like her, that I’m drawn to the exotic—“You like to try different things.” I had never thought we had
much in common. I worked through high school, went directly through college, came out during that time, had a boyfriend for a couple of years, and started working as a school counselor in Oakland, California. I hadn’t found anything
particularly exotic in my life…until I started dating Latinos.
Things never returned to typical from there. I don’t mean to stereotype either, because not all Latinos are the same,
but I was certainly drawn to the passion I found in the men I dated, and the sense of living each day without dwelling too much on the future, the accent, the romantic flare of the Spanish language, the stories they told of “back home,”
and the sex. They also tended to be jealous, non-committal, and, at times, downright irresponsible—not necessarily qualities I had hoped for in a husband. I guess I learned to take the good with the bad. Let’s say they gave me the
best worst times of my life.
Still, though I was shacked up with exotic people, I lived in the safe bosom of the San Francisco Bay Area, and something
inside me yearned for more. It was time for me to confront my fear—I wished to go abroad and become bilingual, I wished to know firsthand what the rest of the world was like—and at twenty-seven, I wasn’t getting any younger. I quit my
job, sold everything that couldn’t fit in a pair of suitcases, and took off for Mexico City where I’d earn a California Bilingual Teaching Credential. I’ve lived in Mexico ever since, fourteen years to date, though now I’m in the sort
of quasi-Mexican border city of Tijuana. A couple of years later, I started writing Normal Miguel.
Tris: Your book Normal Miguel, won the 2010 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance. That’s some achievement. Tell us about that book and why you think it attracted the attention of the Lambda judges.
Erik: Normal Miguel is a story I had to tell after experiencing life in the rural hills of Mexico. I learned that people can have wealth without having money. They can be educated while being far from the modern world. They can be accepting of others without political rallies, legislation, and lawsuits. And they can be ignorant and cruel, too. More important than what I learned about them, I became conscious of the vastness of my own ignorance. My goal in Normal Miguel, besides telling a love story, was to share a different side of the planet, one that probably few have seen, and I think that the judges were particularly charmed by the setting—a mountain boarding school—and the charm of all of the secondary characters whose depth of life experience may be less sophisticated but no less profound than yours or mine.
Tris: Your latest book is The Equinox Convergence. How does this differ from Normal Miguel?
Erik: In some ways, The Equinox Convergence is similar to Normal Miguel. I set out to portray true Mexican life off the beaten path. I incorporated a number of characters of different backgrounds: an indigenous shaman, a young man from a
small town, a reporter, a politician, a middle-aged man who’d fallen into the drug trade, a shrewd businesswoman, and a power-hungry mobster. However, the genre is completely different. There is a lesbian relationship, but this is primarily a suspense. This was my first shot outside of the romance genre. In the sequel, I’ll be expanding a bit on the romantic side.
This is a good time to mention Taxi Rojo—A Tijuana Tale. This book is my return to M/M Romance. It tells the story of a small group of people, mostly gay, whom destiny brings together on an ill-fated taxi ride. After someone is killed, they become involved in one another’s lives as they struggle through a love triangle, health issues, immigration woes, and homophobia. Look for it from Cheyenne Publishing in February of next year.
Tris: How much do you draw on your own life experiences when writing?
Erik: I piece together details from all over the place—anecdotes people tell, the news, dreams, and spontaneous creativity, but mostly from simply watching and listening to the world around me. The themes I try to get across are usually universal ones; the specific details could come from anywhere or anyone. You know what they say about authors—beware!
Tris. There are a lot of women writing gay (or as they are called now M/M) romances. How do you feel about this?
Erik: Some of my friends got upset when they saw straight people in the gay bar. “What are they doing here?” they wondered aloud, appalled. Aside from the sudden doubt I felt about the sexuality of the guys I was trying to pick up on,
(and the possible embarrassment,) in the sense of the Golden Rule I believe in accepting straights in the gay bars—it’s the way I wish they’ll treat me if I stumble (goodness forbid) into a straight bar. On the same token, I invite anyone to write whatever the hell they wish. In the end (I hope), it’s the quality of the writing that should determine its success. Indeed, I have a number of female friends who write enviably good M/M fiction.
In a series of blogs on Reviews by Jessewave, Victor Banis shared his wisdom about writing gay fiction. In his first blog on the topic, he portrayed the notion of “Write what you know” as inane. He says, “I am now painfully aware of how little I do know. I could write volumes, however, on what I don’t know. My advice is, write what you don’t know, which is what you were given imagination and the writing bug for, and concentrate on how you write it.” Personally, I like to research at least
enough to not look like a blazing idiot. That being said, I think I could write a convincing lesbian or straight romance, if I had the desire. Some lesbians or straights might disagree; they might say I got it all wrong. Fair enough. But I reserve the right to write, so I say more power to my female colleagues—may the best (wo)man win.
Tris: All writers have to read, so what do you read for pleasure? Who are your favorite authors?
Erik: I got a Kindle shortly after Christmas and haven’t been able to put the thing down. I’ve been spending as much time reading as writing. And my choices have been eclectic. Right now I’m reading The Good Son by Michael Gruber. I’ve read a fair amount of espionage and cross-cultural stories. As far as gay lit, I loved the Royal Navy Series by Lee Rowan, and many books by Victor Banis, Rick Reed, and Erastes. I like to bounce around a lot and get a feel for different styles. If
you want to know specific titles, you can find my reading list on Goodreads.
Tris: What’s next?
Erik: I already mentioned Taxi Rojo. My next manuscript will be called Day of the Dead—A Romance. If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know I generally don’t talk much about a work-in-progress until after it’s done. I focus on finishing it, not talking about it. I hate to jinx it. Of course, that mentality came from before I had finished a book. Now I know I can do it, so I’ll tell you that it’s the story of a multi-national couple—an American and a Mexican—whose relationship continues, in a sense, after the Mexican’s death, and culminates on the Day of the Dead, an important Mexican holiday. They flash back to their glory days, their overcoming cultural and legal obstacles, and their intimacy. Will the survivor’s agony lead to new hope?
Tris: Tell us a secret about yourself.
Erik: I read a lot of authors whose writing I think is better than mine, more advanced or intellectual. What I’ve got going for me is a certain expertise about Mexico, a country growing by leaps and bounds, whose culture is becoming more integrated into that of the United States. Though I’ve been in Mexico for fourteen years now, and I’ve become bilingual and bicultural, I don’t have a single drop of Latino blood inside me. I’m actually German/Chinese. In a sense, I think that fact helps me to write as I’m well aware of American stereotypes about Mexico.
Tris: How would you like to be remembered?
Erik: I’ve tried to be so many things, or to at least achieve some sort of balance between them all—smart, funny, thoughtful, adventurous, happy, profound, interesting. I’m still working on it. I guess the most important thing to me is to have had a positive impact on people. I’d like to know I enlightened, inspired, or helped someone in one way or another. I hope I’ll be remembered as a person who gave for the sake of giving.
Tris: Thanks, Erik. That was good. I wish you well with your writing.