I'm so happy with Sheila's job on these spotlights. She asks some fab questions and really gets into the authors heads. Today's interview is no exception and she's featuring one of my fave people in the industry. Johnny Miles.
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Here is Sheila's interview with Johnny Miles, one of fave people and authors.
SG: You have an extensive list of writing. You began writing short stories for magazines. I’ve read a few of your short stories but not all. I did enjoy the ones I read. You’ve also written 3 novels, which I did read, and you recently wrote a children’s book under another name. Of the three types of writing, which was your favorite?
JM: Thanks for reading my novels. I must confess I’m not sure I have a favorite. You see, I enjoy writing erotica because it’s fun and easy. I like the explicitness of it because I’m intrigued by the body, by the connection between people and the amazing energy created.
The romance stories? They seemed like a natural progression. I’ve enjoyed them immensely because they’re much more challenging than I originally thought. These are real characters with real concerns and problems. They have conflict and just happen to have sex every once in a while, in addition to resolving their issues and laying their baggage to rest.
As for the children’s book. Well, it really isn’t. At least, not for me. It’s far too heavy to be a children’s book. If anything, it’s more for first-time parents I think. And teens. Or anyone who’s ever endured verbal abuse because -- even though the book deals with sexual and physical abuse as well -- it’s the verbal that destroys far more than anything. The other forms of abuse will mess you up for sure. But words…they can cut and wound in ways none of us can imagine. You can’t see the damage. And we’ve recently seen proof of how bad verbal abuse is. Look at all the teen suicides. Anyone who can look me in the eye and tell me words are just words is someone I’d have to walk away from and probably someone with issues they haven’t confronted.
SG: What is the difference in writing a short story compared to a novel? When you sit down do you know a work will be a short story or a novel or do you let your characters take you down whichever road they go?
JM: The difference between a short story, as compared to a novel, is that with a short, you’re capturing a slice in time. Depending on the story and your intent, I think you have to capture a lot of nuance in a relatively short space without giving the story so much detail the reader gets bogged down in it. I find shorts to be more difficult because I don’t have the space to explore the characters. I have to know them now and condense everything I’d normally do in a novel, but do it in a short.
When I first sit down to write I have a pretty good idea it’s going to be a novel. Sometimes I have a simple synopsis but I’ve been corrected by the characters. They take on a life of their own and frequently let me know that, although they agree about where they should go, they don’t always agree with me on how to get there.
“Casa Rodrigo” surprised me because it was much more involved and complicated than I thought it would be. “Learning To Samba” was the only one where the characters didn’t take me for a ride around the world. We only took some minor detours.
SG: You often have relationships between older men and younger men. What does that allow you to explore within those relationships?
JM: We have a horrible view on aging in this country. We want to put old people away in homes and not look at them or hear them. It’s like we don’t want to see what we’ll become one day. We’re obsessed with youth and want to remain young forever; just take a look at Cher and Joan Rivers. I think there’s an easier way and I hope that through my writing, I can offer people a different view. That if we were to open up to one another, share our thoughts on the world, culture, music, movies, books, perhaps the younger generation might learn something rather than be repulsed by us “older” gents and we, in turn, might feel younger by remaining open to new concepts and experiences as well as reconnecting with that part of ourselves that once allowed us to live life impetuously and passionately.
SG: In Lauderdale Hearts you have Blake suffering two heart attacks. What research did you need to do to get the heart attacks right for physical symptoms as well as the psychological aftermath? I thought Blake’s reaction the first time he gets close to having sex with Ricky after his heart attack was realistic.
JM: I asked several people who’ve had heart attacks if they would share their experiences with me. I also read through the Mayo Clinic’s website for the psychological symptoms such a life altering events would cause. I wanted to know what it felt like, but also what to anticipate. I wanted to know how a heart attack would you change your life? Would you eat differently? What would you worry about? How would you alter your views on life and the world? On your relationships?
I even asked friends and family of heart attack survivors what it was like for them. Then I did what every writer does. I closed my eyes, stepped into their shoes, and used my imagination.
SG: While there were not scenes in Lauderdale Hearts showing Ricky being abused by his lover, there is mention of it and we see the aftermath of an attack. How prevalent is abuse within gay relationships? What can someone outside the relationship do to help someone being abused?
JM: I’ve read that 1 in 4 gay men experience domestic violence. I myself was in a relationship with a man who was verbally abusive, domineering and controlling. He was never physically harmful but manipulated so many aspects of my life. And I never saw it until after I broke up with him.
I remember once telling him I wanted to go to massage school. He exploded with, “How can you give up a career where you make good money just to do something you’ve no idea how to do?” And that was just the tip of the iceberg. It escalated from there. Every time I brought something up he’d shoot me down or call me stupid. Do you know how debilitating that is? I grew to dread coming back home to him. Being with a loved one, straight or gay, should NEVER be like that. You should want to come home to the man or woman you love.
Domestic violence takes many forms; physical, psychological, sexual, verbal. The tough part is to recognize it for what it is. As for helping, if you’re outside of the relationship, that’s really, really hard. Especially because you might see it, you might recognize the patterns, but you’re friend might not. If you say something, how might your friend react? And how do you even bring it up? But if you say nothing you might still lose a friendship, or more than that. Then what? I know if someone had asked me what I was doing with my then partner, I would’ve been like, what do you mean? I don’t know that I could have been told anyway. I was losing friends and becoming isolated and wouldn’t have believed it if anyone said anything anyways. This was one of those life lessons I had to learn the hard way. It’s a tough call either way but I think that if someone is truly concerned about a friend in that type of situation, they might want to seek help from a professional before bringing it up.
SG: In Learning to Samba you have not only the age difference but also a cultural difference with Brian being American and Joao being Brazilian. What dimension does that add to the story? Brian has traveled extensively but he still comes home to his roots. You also have Joao coming from a wealthy family while Brian comes from a middle class family. How does that affect your characters?
JM: This one is easy. The bottom line is that love is love. Like music, love transcends all…age, culture, sexual orientation, money. Our experiences, diverse cultures, religious and political views can inhibit us or allow us to transform into what we wish to be rather than what we think we are or what the rest of society thinks we should be.
In my stories, the diverse differences hopefully add conflict and allow the characters to put those things aside and go after what truly makes them happy and what feels right.
SG: In Lauderdale Hearts and Learning to Samba your older hero is alone. Even in Casa Rodrigo there is an air of loneliness over Bernardo. Blake in Lauderdale Hearts has no one. If not for his co-workers looking out for him, he probably would not have done his recovery the way he should and taken time off. With Brian in Learning to Samba he comes home to reconnect with his sister. How does the loner image add to the story?
JM: I think the loner image is crucial to the story in order to get the reader to identify. Let’s face it, we’ve all been alone at some point. For many of us, the more people we’re surrounded by, the more alone we feel. Physically, we’re almost always never alone for long; unless we choose to be. But mentally? I think most of us go through life floundering because when it comes right down to it, the human condition dictates we be alone with our thoughts, fears, passions, desires, hopes and dreams.
SG: In theater and movies actors are told never to work with animals and children because they’ll be upstaged. You have a dog in Lauderdale Hearts and Brian’s niece and nephew in Learning to Samba. I thought in both cases they helped to lighten the stories at times. I thought the reactions of Kay’s children to both their mother’s romance and Brian’s romance was funny. Does that adage hold true in writing? Why or why not?
JM: You really do ask some very interesting questions! I’ve heard of that phrase. Wasn’t it W.C. Fields who originally said that? (SG: I believe it was him.)
JM: I really don’t know whether the adage holds true for writing. All I know is that I wanted Blake to have a dog because it was the only -- thing? person? -- he felt he could place his trust in. Bosco’s love of his human, just like every animal, is one of unconditional love. It felt right for this particular character to have a dog. He felt more real to me that way.
The same thing went for Kay. I thought about who she was, what she’d experienced and knew she had to have children because it rang true. The fact that Bosco, Allison and Harold J. could add levity to the stories was really icing on the proverbial cake.
SG: Casa Rodrigo is an historical. What drew you to that time period and place? How much research did you have to do to get the history and geography right?
JM: I’ve always been drawn to the mid-16 and 1700s. It’s steeped in drama and ripe for story telling. I did a lot of research -- which was excruciating -- but I also had a lot of help from Treva Harte, her resources, and our friend Bryan. My partner helped some, too. A lot of the details were positively horrifying and revolting, but that was the time and we can’t sweep history under a rug.
As for the geography, I used my personal experience having been to Puerto Rico and just modified it. There are differences but the culture and terrain are fairly similar.
SG: Casa Rodrigo I found to be a novel of many layers. I was more drawn to Bernardo’s story than Alonso and Arbol’s story. There is the contrast between the idealism of Alonso and the reality of life that Bernardo has. Alonso is somewhat open in his relationship with Arbol especially at the end of the story while Bernardo has shame for his male/male relationships in the past and currently. Did Casa Rodrigo start out as a love story for Alonso and Arbol? What brought in the contrast of Bernardo’s life into the story?
JM: Casa Rodrigo was originally supposed to be about one of Alonso’s sons, a horrible spoiled brat, and an accidental half-breed who was also Alonso’s son. That angle had to be removed although I was planning a twist. When it was considered for publication, the editor at Loose Id suggested I focus on Alonso and Arbol instead. So, in answer to your question, no. Casa did not start out as a love story for Alonso and Arbol but it became that.
Thank you, by the way, for getting that “Casa Rodrigo” was a multi-layered story. I wanted to reflect the generation gap, the point where we become rigid adults and adhere to “rules” and “the norm” versus the newer, changing thoughts of people who were progressive in their mindset.
SG: I found it interesting that Bernardo says it is okay for Alonso to have his “friends” when he is younger but that he must put them aside to get married and have children, yet I did not see that Bernardo was happy with having done “the right thing” in marrying Adelina. When Bernardo is confessing and explaining to Alonso why he had entered into an agreement with Raul, their neighbor, I see Adelina’s influence very strongly in Alonso. Though she is not in the story long, how does her influence affect the story?
JM: I loved, loved, loved Adelina and hope someday to come back to her. She was real and not prone to bullshit. I think Bernardo probably married Adelina because he had to, but grew to love her. It’s what was, and still is to some degree, expected of you in order to protect what you’ve built and created; if you want someone to pass things your wealth and land to. After all, back then it was about arranged marriages. Love had nothing to do with it.
I think Bernardo was unhappy in many ways because he did, once upon a time, love Raul. I think he felt guilty for probably still loving him, despite all the horrible things they’d gone through and the miserable person Raul had become. I suppose, in a way, Raul might even have blamed himself to some degree. And, since at the time Spanish society and the church viewed homosexuality as a sure condemnation, it only added to Bernardo’s guilt.
SG: Raul is never a favorite character of mine in Casa Rodrigo but he does show a little piece of humanity when he lets Perez leave without inflicting a beating on him. That’s when I saw what he felt for Bernardo. How difficult is it to add a bit of humanity and vulnerability to a villain in a story? Raul was nasty but just that little scene gave me a bit (a very little bit) of compassion for him. He never seems to care what others think of him yet he sees Adelina, Bernardo’s wife, as a competitor for Bernardo’s affections. Why was that important for a reader to see?
JM: That bit about Raul letting Perez go was actually Treva’s doing. Or was it the editor’s? I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is that after thinking about it, I realized Raul definitely needed that humanity because most people aren’t born wicked. We’re shaped by our experiences but also by how we choose to let those experiences mold us. Some just happen to have less guilt than others. Raul, in particular, was skewed because he was a self-made man exposed mostly to pirates and men with little scruples.
Remember, too, that Raul was the bastard son of a nobleman. Had he been accepted into the folds of so-called “civilized society” he might have been a completely different person.
SG: By the end of Casa Rodrigo we see Bernardo changing. He becomes stronger in fighting to protect his son. How important to the story was Bernardo’s change? Alonso changes some but not as much as Bernardo. I definitely want to see what happens after the end of the story.
JM: Alonso didn’t change much because I think he saw the world in terms of black and white; no pun intended. I think, too, he was still young. Bernardo, on the other hand, changed because he had to. I think he’d gone along with the rest of society and done what was expected of him for so long I don’t think he knew anything else. He needed to make a stand. After all, Alonso was his flesh and blood!
I think Bernardo also realized his son might have the chance to live the life he wanted, and be happy, rather than go down the same path he did. I think he might have also told Adelina she’d been right; certain things in life are morally wrong and creating an economy based on the exploitation of other humans is definitely among them.
The characters in this particular story intrigue me. Especially Raul, believe it or not. I haven’t ruled out writing a sequel because I, too, want to know what happened next! Not to mention, perhaps a prequel. So, who knows? You just might get your wish.
SG: What new works are in progress?
JM: Currently, a short story that I can’t mention yet. I’ll be editing a story for Untreed Reeds that will be coming out for the holidays. I’m also editing a trashy romantic piece about a cross-dressing young man’s self-discovery and I’m still working out specifics for a synopsis for “Have Bucket, Will Travel.”
SG: Where can we find you on the internet?
JM: I’m on Facebook but you can also visit my website or my blog.
The website is: http://johnny-miles.com.
The blog is: http://johnny-miles.blogspot.com/
SG: Now some fun, quick questions:
Halloween or Thanksgiving?
JM: Thanksgiving. Definitely Thanksgiving. Believe it or not I’m not the one that opens the door at Halloween. Not unless there’s going to be a hot, naked man standing there before me promising to fulfill each and every one of our desires. Which, sadly, would probably be to clean the house naked, do the groceries, then wash and fold our clothes. Damn, that reminds me. At the first sign of “real” money, must place an ad in the paper for a houseboy.
SG: Favorite movie?
JM: I have several of those, for various reasons. However, they’re way too many to mention. If I had to narrow it down, there are two that vie for number one position. Auntie Mame (with Rosalind Russell, not the other one) and Victor/Victoria.
SG: Skiing or sailing?
JM: LOL! Considering I don’t know how to swim and have enough trouble walking unless I’m caffeinated, probably neither. Unless cruising on a big ship counts!
SG: Snowball fight or building snowman?
JM: Building a snowman. Don’t like getting whacked upside the head or feeling snow trickle down my back. Brrrr!
SG: Favorite drink?
JM: Coffee. Unless you mean alcoholic. In which case, I love sangria, red wine and mojitos. I also enjoy well-made chocolate martinis.
SG: Favorite vacation?
JM: If we’re talking about future vacations, I’d say Europe. Perhaps the U.K. France, Italy or Spain. As long as my partner is with me it doesn’t matter where I am. If we’re talking places I’ve been, I’d have to say my favorite so far has been San Francisco. Although, we’ve had some really good times at Disney, too!
SG: Football or hockey?
JM: I’m afraid neither. I’m not a huge sports fan. What I do watch, however, tends to be more contact sports with half-naked men sweating in a ring, like UFC or college wrestling.
SG: Pumpkin pie or apple pie?
JM: Oh, c’mon now. You don’t really want me to choose, do you? Okay, okay. How big are the slices? I’ll forego a huge piece of one for a sliver of each. Warm. With vanilla ice cream, please! With a piping hot cup of coffee.
SG: New York or New Orleans?
JM: New York was, is, and probably always will be the center of my universe. Sound familiar?
SG: Donuts or cupcakes?
JM: One of each, please! With chocolate milk, heavy on the chocolate.