Varian is an indie author and photographer, and I'm a huge fan of her work. He latest novel, Transmundo: Escape is out now on Amazon. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the book and it's amazing! If you want to check out my review, where I gush about Varian's awesome book, click HERE.
Hey, Varian. I’m very excited to have you over at my blog and ask you a few questions. Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of your work – both as an author and a photographer – and I’m glad my readers will get to know you a bit better, too.
Thank you Teodora! And thank you for the kind invitation. I'm happy to be here and have a chance to talk with you and your readers.
Your writing is beautiful and it’s always felt very personal to me. As if you’ve gone through what your characters are going through. How personal are your books – your stories, your characters – to you? How much of yourself do you put in a book?
What a lovely compliment, thank you. I don't think I'd know how to write a story that didn't feel deeply personal to me, though I admit I haven´t been through any of the harrowing things I put my protagonists through. I tend to write pretty high-stakes plots, where characters' well-being, freedom, even their lives are in peril. But even though I've never had to survive a war, or a kidnapping, or an apocalypse, or go up against human traffickers, when I'm writing how a character acts or reacts in a certain moment of danger or confrontation, I tap into the emotions we've all experienced. The dread that something bad is about to happen, self-doubt about rising to the occasion and doing the right thing, even when it's painful or scary. Fear the person you love won't love you back, or that you'll accidentally hurt the person who's trusted you with their love. And the euphoria of falling for someone amazing, and knowing they're falling for you, too.
Did you choose the genre you’re writing in or did it chose you?
I suppose it chose me. I'm more or less constantly dreaming up characters, scenarios, and stories, and the ones that take over my imagination and don't leave me time to dwell on others are the ones I write. If there are writers out there who choose genres or tropes based on how popular they are, I have no idea how they do it. If I don't get the little chest cramp that hits when a moment between two characters cuts me to the quick, I couldn't write their story. I'm just not that disciplined.
I’m very curious about your writing process. Can you describe a typical writing day for you? Any strange habits or quirks?
My process varies drastically from book to book. The moment I started writing Dangerously Happy, the novel just spilled out of me. I couldn't stop it. I woke up in the morning, wrote for a couple of hours “at home” (I'd just ended a long relationship and was slowly migrating from Amsterdam to Barcelona, so I was drifting from place to place), then head over to a cafe and work for a few more hours, then another cafe, then home, then a bar. All I did for four weeks was write. Bad Things took a bit more effort, and there was a lot more stopping and starting and stalling. Trasmundo: Escape was pretty different, for me, because it's the first book in a trilogy, and as I was writing, I kept thinking of scenes for the second book, Trasmundo: Exile. So I was popping back and forth between the two novels. Escape also involved a bit more research than my previous books. In particular, one book I read about the civil war in Yugoslavia inspired certain scenes and interactions. So, I'd read a chapter of The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic in the morning, then get to writing.
Maybe the one constant quirk is, I create a unique playlist for each new novel, and listen to it almost exclusively during the weeks or months of writing. The right songs evoke a certain mood, and catalyse the whole process, from daydreaming the characters and scenes I'll eventually commit to the page, to wrestling the words into order and refining through the editing process.
Your latest book, Transmundo: Escape, is the first book in a brand new series. I personally found it very different to your previous two mm romance books. What inspired it?
Oh, that's always a tricky question. Inspiration is so convoluted. But I always start from the kernel of a single encounter between two people, a moment of tension, often of danger and fear. In this case, it was the idea of a young, frightened man in the captivity of an enemy soldier. I like putting people together in situations where they ought to mistrust and fear each other, because for me, it's then all the more poignant when they get past those obstacles and start to care for each other.
In the case of this novel, from that initial inspiration, I started pondering why they were there, what the war was about. I'm certainly no history expert, but in my academic life I dabble in connections between literature and politics, and historical patterns and cycles fascinate me. I started thinking about the sad repetition of genocides and ethnic cleansing that happened in so many different parts of the world in the twentieth century. Of course the Holocaust is the most often discussed example, but there was also the Armenian genocide, Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia. And obviously all of these conflicts had their unique set of circumstances, complicated histories. But on a fundamental level, what happens again and again is, one person or a few people occupying positions of authority exploit the tensions, fears and frustrations of a population and use the energy and anger they whip up as a means to their own ends, which never benefit the general population. People die. Families are destroyed. Countries collapse in disaster.
I also wanted to set the story of two young men falling in love in a part of the world where it is still dangerous to be anything but cis and straight. Of course, even in countries that have adopted equality policies and where LGBT people have legal protections, there´s still further to go. But in the wake of big victories like marriage equality happening in Ireland and the U.S. these past months, it´s tempting to forget that in other places, police publicly beat same-sex couples with impunity.
When can we expect the rest of the series to come out? I’m very impatient to find out more about Tarik and Luka.
Well, I hate to make promises, but the second book is more than half written (and already longer than the first book).
Your covers are always gorgeous! I won’t hide the fact that the first thing that attracted me to the first book I ever read of yours – Dangerously Happy – was the cover. How important is the cover for you, both as an author and as a reader?
As a reader, I seldom notice the cover, because I'm usually after a book I've already decided to read, either because it was recommended by someone whose tastes are in line with my own, or because a book is on my “must read before I die,” list. The list is long, and life is short.
As an author, though, a cover is immensely important to me. Of course, I always hope a cover will do just what it did with you: attract and interest a potential reader enough that they give my writing a chance. And, it's also important to me on a personal level. When I see the image that represents the story I've poured myself into, I want it to be a reflection of those characters and what they go through together.
You used one of your own images for the cover of Transmundo, and I must say I absolutely love it. How did you get into photography? Was it spur of the moment thing or did you have some previous experience?
Writing is my first and most enduring obsession, but I've always needed visual creative expression, too. I had a period of painting (abstracts in oil), I dabbled in filmmaking for a couple years, but primarily as a writer and director, not a camera operator. The impulse to jump into photography was prompted by my desperation and frustration with finding good photos for m/m novels, and by the photographer who shot the cover images for Dangerously Happy and Bad Things. I admire her work so much, and thought rather than feeling envious of what she was achieving, I should take a shot at it for myself.
Your photos are stunning! There’s a certain sensual energy pouring out of them and I’m addicted to browsing your photography page for no reason. How do you find models who are willing to bare so much in front of the camera, and to look so affectionate with each other?
Believe me, there were months and months of trying to find models for m/m shoots, and in the meantime I did a few solo shoots. When I finally found two models up for a “couple” session, I was ridiculously nervous, and couldn't quite imagine how I was going to direct these two strangers who'd just met, to act like they were in love and turned on and into each other, especially because Sean was so young (just eighteen) and only spoke English, while Gerard only spoke Spanish. But I somehow managed to communicate with them both, and honestly, they just went for it, and all I had to do was shoot. They were awesome, and all the models since have been, too.
What can we expect from Varian next? Any other talent you’re hiding?
All I can say is, trust me, you don't want to hear me sing.
Right, it’s all fun and games until the Lightning Round!!!!
· Do you prefer to be right or liked? Ouch! That's a hard one. I admit, I need to be right and be liked. I'll find a way to make it work. If it's impossible, I'll weigh how important the particular person or people are, who might me alienated by my rightness, and decide whether or not they mean more to me than my ego, haha.
· Superman or Batman? As a lover for a hot night or two? Batman. He'd be good, dangerous fun. As a long-term thing? Superman (I don't need moody and damaged once we're shopping for groceries together). As the superhero I'd want to be? I'll take flying over all the cool hardware.
· Do you sing in the shower? I'm more of a car singer than a shower singer (maybe I need speakers in the bathroom).
· Are you a night owl or an early bird? Definitely night owl. I'm often still up when the birds start squawking about the sunrise.
· Who’s your dream mentor? Michel Foucault. Stunningly brilliant, wrote essays on history that read like sensual poems, and had a great sense of humor.
· Your phone or your kindle? Well, since I can technically read on my phone, I'll reluctantly yield my kindle.
· What’s your favourite food? Anything spicy and vegetarian. Saag Paneer, tamales, Tom Kha.
· Did you ever read a book because everyone else was reading it? If yes, which one? Actually, I don´t think so. I have a couple of close friends whose reading tastes have influenced me, though.
· Pizza or sushi? Veggie sushi! Love the wasabi!
· TV series or full length movies? I used to be such a cinephile, but TV series are getting so good! Six Feet Under, House of Cards, Sense8. I think I'm a series convert!
Thank you, Varian, for being such a fabulous guest!
Thank you have inviting me, Teodora! It's been my pleasure!
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