We are very happy to welcome Lisa Henry to the Smoocher’s Voice blog today. Henry’s most recent novels Bliss, co-written with Heidi Belleau and Sweetwater are available at Riptide Publishing.
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters. Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house a long-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
Connect with Lisa:
Jodi: Thank you, Lisa for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Lisa: Thanks for having me! I’m Australian. I live in tropical north Queensland. I’ve been writing for just about as long as I can remember. I love writing m/m, and I love the m/m reading community. I’m also very possibly the most disorganized person on the planet, but it’s too late to try and change now.
Jodi: What inspired you to write Sweetwater and set the story in the 1870s?
Lisa: Rachel Haimowitz approached me and asked me to write it for Riptide. I was excited by the idea of writing another historical, this time set in a place I really wasn't familiar with, and agreed to give it a try. I chose the 1870s because it suited what I needed, and gave me a boomtown right on the edge of a bust, gold miners, the railroad, and the burgeoning cattle industry. And the more I researched the town of South Pass City, the more perfect it became. It was almost ephemeral – this brief, bustling town in the middle of nowhere, that less than a decade later had almost vanished again.
Jodi: What type of research did you need to do for this book, especially around the issue of homosexuality?
Lisa: I majored in history at university, and I’ve always loved social history. I like to think I’ve got a pretty good grounding in the prevailing attitudes and morals of people of the time period. But of course, people have always been people as well, sneaking around in the dark to get what they really need despite what society tells them to do. If I’d set Sweetwater in a major city, I could have had so much fun with that. Wherever there’s civilization, there’s a cultural underground where the outcasts are welcome: people whose sexuality or ethnicity or religion or politics, unless hidden, might exclude them from proper society. But Elijah is a small town boy, and South Pass City doesn’t have that sort of counter-culture, which means Elijah is kind of stuck with what’s on offer. Initially that’s only Harlan Crane, a man who is not good for him at all.
I did a lot of research in Sweetwater to try and get the historical details right, but it was also important that my characters fit the time as well. Elijah isn’t a modern character. He’s ashamed of his homosexuality, and believes he’s going to hell because of it. When Grady later dodges the question of religion and hints at being an atheist, the idea is totally foreign to Elijah. He is very much a product of his time.
Jodi: What was the biggest challenge for you as a writer to set this story in this time period?
Lisa: Honestly? Trying to find out how much a shot of whiskey might have cost in a frontier saloon in 1870. I think that took me about three days searching online, and then it came down to guesswork anyway, since apparently it could be anywhere between ten and fifty cents, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but fifty cents went a long way in the West!
That’s the fun part, and the frustrating part, about writing historical fiction. The big picture is usually quite easy. It’s the tiny details that will threaten to trip you up every time.
Jodi: The characters in this story are intriguing and intense. Elijah, Harlan and Grady are very different, yet they share a few commonalities. What was your inspiration for each of these men?
Lisa: I always started with the idea of a guy caught between the two Western archetypes: the good guy and the bad guy – the cowboy and the rich man from town. Both Grady and Harlan grew from that idea, which isn’t to say that Grady is all good and Harlan is all bad. They’re both imperfect characters, but they do come to a kind of unwritten understanding when it comes to Elijah.
Jodi: The people in your story, the main characters as well as the minor characters are criminals. Did you have a difficult time making them sympathetic?
Lisa: I hope Elijah is a sympathetic character. And I think Grady is. Grady might be stealing cattle, but he’s also just trying to make a living. Then again, I suppose Harlan’s only trying to make a living as well! None of my characters are squeaky clean, but some are definitely nicer than others.
Jodi: Elijah has had a rough life. He seems to define himself by his lack of family and his affliction. Was it difficult to write about his perspective?
Lisa: I think this is very much a book about family – the family that you make, rather than the one you’re born with. Elijah takes a while to grasp that – as an adopted son he feels he’s a cheap substitute. Elijah is also incredibly isolated, because he’s an orphan, and because he’s partially deaf. I think everyone has had times in their life when they’ve felt alone and overlooked and generally worthless, so in that sense it was easy to write from his perspective.
Jodi: he bad guy. m that idea. WWhy is Elijah so willing to go to Harlan, yet he is outraged when he realizes the other people in the bar know his secret?
Lisa: Elijah is ashamed of his desires, just as society tells him he ought to be. Harlan Crane is old enough, rich enough, and despised enough not to give a damn. Harlan has also reinvented himself before, and can do it again in a new town if he has to. He’s fearless, which is something Elijah initially admires about him. But Elijah has spent his entire life trying to be a good son to his adoptive father, and a big part of that is keeping his sexuality a secret. Even when Elijah thinks he’s risking his eternal damnation by going to Harlan, he’s still more afraid that people will find out.
Jodi: Grady and Harlan are both strong men, yet they are very different from each other and want different things. Was it a challenge to write two very different characters?
Lisa: It was great fun to give Elijah such different choices. Grady and Harlan are very different, but the one thing they have in common is Elijah. Neither of them look through Elijah, like most other people in the town, which is why he is drawn to both of them. I’d decided from the beginning that Elijah had to be with Harlan first, or otherwise there’d be no competition at all since Grady’s so damn good for Elijah, but I actually surprised myself by how much I ended up liking Harlan. I mean, he’s not a nice guy, but at least he’s upfront about it!
Jodi: Bliss, a science fiction novel, is very different than Sweetwater. Is it difficult to switch gears from writing in the science fiction to the historical genre?
Lisa: I’ll write anything! It was actually a relief to switch to Bliss after Sweetwater, simply because Sweetwater was so heavy on the research and the fact checking. With Bliss, which I co-wrote with Heidi Belleau, we did all our own world building, so as long as it was internally consistent we could do what we wanted.
Jodi: What was your inspiration for Bliss and the town of Beulah?
Lisa: We took the name from The Pilgrim’s Progress. The place itself we wrote as everything we thought a perfect society should be. It’s powered by green energy, healthcare and education are free, everyone has a job, everyone has equal rights, and there is absolutely no crime. And of course that’s too good to be true, and it all comes at a price. That price, as it turns out for those who break the rules, is free will.
Jodi: Beulah is reminiscent of the concept of literary utopian and dystopian societies, but there is a unique twist in your book. How does the chip alter the person who has been implanted?
Lisa: The chip makes the recipient crave praise. Basically, it turns them into a happy slave. But the sneakiest thing about it, is the person with the chip can’t tell anyone about it. So, if you ended up with a chipped person living with you, you’d probably start them off doing all the housework, and they’d be totally happy to do it. So of course we had to explore what would happen if you were attracted to that person, and all they wanted to do was to earn your praise.
Jodi: The phrase “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes to mind when reading this book. What was your inspiration for Jericho Lowell?
Lisa: Every slick politician who has ever lived! Lowell is handsome, clever, friendly, and comes across as totally genuine. Like everything else in Beulah, it’s too good to be true. Lowell is one of the most monstrous villains I’ve ever written, because he’s so secure in his own power that he’ll destroy other people totally just to get what he wants.
When it comes to absolute power corrupting absolute though, I think Rory’s journey is far more interesting. He finds himself absolutely corrupted as well, even though he never knew he was holding all the power.
Jodi: Tate and Rory are both from Tophet, but they have very different backgrounds. Tell us a little about these men.
Lisa: Tophet is a polluted, crime-ridden society on the verge of collapse. Tate is very much a product of that society. He’s a criminal who has travelled to Beulah in the hopes of an easy score. He was brought up in a bad neighborhood, and hung around the wrong people, but does want something better for himself in the future, if he can clear his debts.
Rory has come to Beulah for a fresh start. He’s worked incredibly hard to be accepted as an immigrant in this perfect society. He has no close family back in Tophet, and is ready to make Beulah his home. Despite his misgivings about the place, he desperately wants to believe it’s perfect.
Jodi: This book is intense, and some of the scenes are uncomfortable to read. Was it difficult to write the forced sex and humiliation?
Lisa: I won’t say the scenes were difficult to write, although we definitely discussed how readers might receive them. A lot of the scenes in Bliss are very disturbing. Often, when we write sex scenes, we do it to show two characters physically expressing their love and affection. Here, that’s not the case at all. Most of the sex scenes have more in common with horror than romance. Even the scenes where Tate and Rory are together are uncomfortable, because Rory has no idea what’s going on in Tate’s head, and how there’s a part of him, despite what he says, that really doesn’t want to do it at all.
Jodi: How is writing with a co-author different than writing a book independently? Do you have a preference?
Lisa: I write much faster with a co-author, because while I’m happy to shelve my own projects when I hit a roadblock, with a co-author I feel obligated to work through any difficulties. Co-writing is also an exercise in negotiation. When you write on your own, you don’t have to negotiate, but you also don’t have the fun of coming up with so many different scenarios, some of which might not have occurred to you on your own. But I like both!
Jodi: What is your next project?
Lisa: Coming up next is another co-written project, this time with J.A. Rock, with whom I share a hive mind. That’s our theory anyway. We’ve written a crime caper trilogy (with added Shakespearean flair) called the Playing the Fool series. It’s a definite change of pace from both Bliss and Sweetwater! The first book is The Two Gentlemen of Altona, and it’s coming in December. You can find out about the series at Riptide.
Elijah Carter is afflicted. Most of the townsfolk of South Pass City treat him as a simpleton because he’s deaf, but that’s not what shames him the most. Something in Elijah runs contrary to nature and to God. Something that Elijah desperately tries to keep hidden.
Harlan Crane, owner of the Empire saloon, knows Elijah for what he is—and for all the ungodly things he wants. And Crane isn’t the only one. Grady Mullins desires Elijah too, but unlike Crane, he refuses to push or mistreat the young man.
When violence shatters Elijah’s world, he is caught between two very different men and two devastating urges: revenge and despair. In a boomtown teetering on the edge of a bust, Elijah must face what it means to be a man in control of his own destiny, and choose a course that might end his life . . . or truly begin it for the very first time.
They're always happy.
Rory James has worked hard all his life to become a citizen of the idyllic city-state of Beulah. Like every other kid born in the neighboring country of Tophet, he’s heard the stories: No crime or pollution. A house and food for everyone. It’s perfect, and Rory is finally getting a piece of it.
So is Tate Patterson. He’s from Tophet, too, but he’s not a legal immigrant; he snuck in as a thief. A city without crime seems like an easy score, until he crashes into Rory during a getaway and is arrested for assaulting a citizen. Instead of jail, Tate is enrolled in Beulah’s Rehabilitation through Restitution program. By living with and serving his victim for seven years, Tate will learn the human face of his crimes.
If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Tate is fitted with a behavior-modifying chip that leaves him unable to disobey orders—any orders, no matter how dehumanizing. Worse, the chip prevents him from telling Rory, the one man in all of Beulah who might care about him, the truth: in a country without prisons, Tate is locked inside his own mind.