Today my guest is author Shelter Somerset, author of gay historical and contemporary romances. Welcome to Susana’s Morning Room, Shelter.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve wanted to write since before I could read. I can remember sitting at my small round white table and drawing picture books. What a rush I’d experience! My first picture book, which I still have, was about two lonely dinosaurs that meet and fall in love.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been a published author as of January 3, 2011, the day I signed my first contract with Dreamspinner Press. That novel was “Between Two Worlds”, a romance between two men: an agnostic city boy and a devout Amish man.
What advice would you give writers just starting out?
If I had to give any advice, I’d tell aspiring writers to first learn how to finish a novel. I was thirty-five before I figured that out. My trick? I write backwards. Once you have your novel anchored with a solid ending, you might be more driven to finish. I think the number one issue writers have is NOT finishing a manuscript. How many Americans have half-written novels tucked inside drawers?
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
After five published novels and a sixth one on the way, I’ve learned that writer’s block can be overcome by writing. Sounds strange, I know, but whenever I have no clue what to write or writing is the last thing I want to do, I simply sit down and do it anyway. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, my best work comes during those times.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
For me the setting comes first, then the people who populate it, then, naturally, their stories. I have a thing about rustic, remote places. If I could live anywhere on earth, it would be in a cabin in the Alaskan bush. I envision people who live in those areas, and they whisper to me their dreams.
Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.
“The Rule of Sebastian” (published Nov. 12, 2012), was something I have long wanted to write. I love aesthetic lifestyles, and nothing denotes that more than a monastery nestled high in the mountains. The title is a play on “The Rule of St. Benedict,” a Benedictine monk who codified the rules of monastic living fifteen hundred years ago. I actually went through a short discernment (that’s when you consider entering a monastery and stay a few weeks to see if it suits you). I learned much about monastic life. My experiences inside a monastery also proved something that, growing up Catholic, I had always suspected—that the Catholic Church is the world’s largest gay club. I know some people, gay and/or devout, will get angry about my saying that, but it’s a truth I experienced. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve never been molested or approached by a priest or monk for sex. It’s more to it than that. I think people would be surprised if they visited a monastery and noticed the overt gay symbols and expressions. Not all monks and priests are gay, and not all, gay or straight, break their vows, but as my novel uncovers, homosexuality isn’t such an oddity in a world where there are only men. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many gays are attracted to such an environment.
“The Rule of Sebastian” is a classic murder mystery loaded with Biblical allegories, and I explore the issue of homosexuality and the Catholic Church, such as the ones I’ve noted above. The main protagonist struggles to keep his vows while falling for a younger novice. When he investigates the unusual death of one of the residents, he uncovers more than he bargained for, including a confrontation with his own past.
Are you working on something at present you would like to tell us about?
I signed my sixth contract January 21, 2013 for a contemporary romance due for release in May. It’s a sweet—and realistic—romance between two former brothers-in-law who, after many years apart, are brought together by those dastardly circumstances that seem to haunt unwary characters dating as far back as Romeo and Juliet.
Also, I am currently writing a third installment to my Amish Series, “Between Two Loves”. This time, the two lovers, Aiden the agnostic and Daniel the Amish farmer and carpenter, are dealing with an old flame of Aiden’s who has imposed himself on their nascent relationship. I haven’t spent time with these characters in a few years, and I’m enjoying getting to know them again.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Because my father collected leather bound editions, I grew up reading adult-oriented literature. I was only twelve when I first read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. There was just enough gore to keep my adolescent mind riveted. I learned to appreciate nineteenth-century Russian authors. I also like American writers, from Washington Irving to Maya Angelou.
What is your work schedule like when writing?
I wish I could say I awake at a certain hour, grab a steaming mug of coffee, light a pipe, and sit at my large mahogany desk where I write until ten, then walk the grounds of my estate with my two hounds for my midday constitutional, return to my study after a replenishing lunch of smoked salmon tar tare made by my personal butler, and write for another two hours, but my life isn’t like that. It’s erratic and sloppy. I write when I find the time, sometimes late at night, other times I awake early on weekends and jab at the keypad until nine or later. I actually write on top of an old washing machine. How’s that for idyllic?
What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?
I’m guessing here, but I figure most people assume I’m a woman. I’m not. I also shock a few people by refusing to follow the typical formula for what has been labeled everything from gay literature to slash. I march to my own drummer. Some people like that, others are offended. I figure if I offend enough readers, I’ll become just as popular.
Do you have a favorite quote or saying?
“Liberty is a two-way street.” I don’t know who originated it, but it works for me. It’s one of those sayings that challenges people’s views regardless of which side of the fence they’re on. I love that!
Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?
Within the framework of gay male romance required by my publisher Dreamspinner Press, I write anything from historical to contemporary. Basically I’m a prisoner of my characters. Once those people pop inside my head, they are as real as you and I. They force me to tell their stories, whoever they are and wherever they might live. Some are modern romantics, others are Civil War veterans.
What is something you’d like to accomplish in your writing career next year?
I’m still hoping for a large mahogany desk and a butler.
Shelter Somerset’s home base is Chicago, Illinois. He enjoys writing about the lives of people who live off the land, whether they be the Amish, nineteenth-century pioneers, or modern-day idealists seeking to live apart from the crowd. Shelter’s fascination with the rustic, aesthetic lifestyle began as a child with family camping trips into the Blue Ridge Mountains. His “brand” is anything from historicals, mysteries, thrillers, and contemporaries, all with individualistic themes. When not back home in Illinois writing, Shelter continues to explore America’s expansive backcountry and rural communities. His philosophy is best summed up by the actor John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”