This week’s interviewee is fellow lesbian romance author E.J. Noyes, whose debut novel Ask, Tell is one of my favorite f/f romances.
E.J. is giving away two paperback copies of her latest book, Alone, sent worldwide, so don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post!
Welcome, E.J. Please tell us a little about your newest release, Alone.
I’ve spent so long calling Alone “The Weird One” while trying not to give too much away, and it’s really hard to wean myself off just describing it with those three words! I suppose the first thing I can say about it is this is a novel I’m incredibly proud of, weirdness and all.
Celeste Thorne has been living in isolation for the past three-ish years as part of a four-year psychological experiment, and if she sees it through to the end she’ll get half a million dollars. Sweet deal. On paper, the experiment is designed to test people’s mental stamina for colonization of other planets, so the main and most important part of the experiment is that she’s totally alone. No voices or faces in any way shape or form, and her only human contact is via daily text logs with the people monitoring her. Celeste does have visitors—hallucinations of people she knows, which means she can at least have a conversation, even if it’s a rather one-sided one.
Unsurprisingly, she’s starting to be worn down by her isolation, when she encounters an injured Olivia Soldano. Olivia’s arrival sets off a chain reaction of moral and personal dilemmas regarding compromising the experiment, and also Celeste’s own needs as a woman who’s literally seen nobody for the past three-plus years. They’re forced to co-inhabit Celeste’s dwelling for a little while and, well, I write romance so…
As well as morality, I think Alone raises some interesting points about trust – trusting a stranger but also how much can you trust your own emotions when it’s possible they’re just a result of your upbringing and current circumstances.
I just have to ask: How on earth did you come up with the idea for Alone? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a novel with a similar premise.
Daydreaming, as usual. I’m not sure what exactly triggered the original thought, but I remember thinking about two scientists being forced to live in really close quarters while they monitored some boring experiment like How do plants grow in this xyz scenario, and how initial antagonism would (of course) turn to love. As all my thoughts do, it unraveled pretty quickly. What if only one person was isolated and someone just appeared one day. What if the person was isolated for years, and how would they feel suddenly seeing a human again. What if they weren’t a scientist at all, but just a regular person who wasn’t really equipped to be alone for so long. What if they couldn’t leave until the experiment was done, and maaaaaybe went a little off the rails mentally.
Everything else, all the background and characterisation, was really easy once I figured out what kind of person would participate in such a thing.
If someone offered you the same deal Celeste got in Alone—half a million dollars for four years in total isolation—would you take it? Why or why not?
If you’d asked me fifteen years ago, I would have said unequivocally yes. Casual job, no steady partner or wife, crappy car. Easy, right? I think four years of isolation with no internet or television or people distracting me sounds like the perfect set up to crank out a whole bunch of novels. But I’d miss my current life too much and I’d probably suffer some serious mental health issues as a result. Now I’d have to lean towards not taking it, though the “You could quit your job and travel around skiing with all that money!” part of my brain is screaming at me. Oh, yeah, and I guess life with my wife is worth more than half a million. (Psst, offer me $600,000 and I’ll consider that much time apart from her).
She read this and indignantly told me she’s worth more than $600k. $750k maybe?
Your book Ask, Tell was one of my favorite lesbian fiction romances of the past two years. It was hard to believe that it was your debut novel. Was it really the first book you ever wrote, or have you written other things before?
Ahh, thank you! And yes, it was the first book I ever wrote. Previously, the only things I’d written longer than a few paragraphs were—this is so embarrassing—short fictions I posted on Tumblr for my World of Warcraft roleplaying character. The Tumblr account is long gone, in case anyone is going to rush off trying to find my drivel.
One of the things that sets your books apart from many others in lesbian fiction is your choice of point of view. What do you enjoy about writing in first-person point of view, and could you ever see yourself writing in third-person POV?
Writing in first feels incredibly immersive, which suits how I construct stories in my head. I like to experience things as the character does, and have the same constraints that we as humans have trying to figure out what other people think and feel. I tend to get rather empathetic regarding my characters, so it’s almost—and this always sounds so lame—as if I’m writing something I’m experiencing. But like all POVs it has limitations (see above re: not knowing what other characters are thinking) which I try to work around – sometimes with success, other times not so much.
I have written some third person! I feel like I need a pat on the back… Lena, my historical fiction WIP, is split with “present time” in third person, then historical portions in first person as like a retelling of experiences from the character’s POV. I’m also in the process of turning a novel from first to third which is a new experience—it usually goes the other way when I vow “I am so totally writing this one in third!”, start in third and then realise Wouldn’t it be nice to really know what this character thinks? and change it to first.
When I write in third, it always feels really distant to me, which as a storyteller I don’t like. That said, it is something I would love to master, but I’m still growing and learning as an author so it’ll take some time to get there.
To clarify – it’s only writing in third that I struggle with. I read and love all POVs and tenses.
Your books typically revolve around raw experiences and complex pasts—the main character of Ask Me Again, for example, is suffering from PTSD, and Aspen from Gold hasn’t quite dealt with the physical and emotional consequences of the crash that ended her career. If you are working on a book like that, does it affect your own emotions? How do you make sure your writing doesn’t affect your emotional well-being?
It absolutely affects me, especially being the kind of get right inside the character’s head writer I am. While I’m researching and reading about other people’s experiences it really presses my empathy button, so Ask Me Again was incredibly difficult. It’s hard to make characters you love suffer, and I’ll be honest – I did cry a fair bit while writing it and definitely got a little down at times.
As to how I keep it from affecting my emotional well-being… Frankly, I can’t. Empathy aside, I work fulltime, have six horses, a needy cat, and a wife. I also try to have some sort of life (ha-ha), so my writing time is quite limited. I often find myself in a situation where I could really use a decent break to relax and “un-depress” myself but can’t take one because I have a deadline to meet. So I charge through as best I can. When I find myself close to my emotional limit, I make myself take short breaks to do something else or just get outside for some air, talk to my wife, force the cat to be cuddled. Or I just have a massive teary and then get on with it.
If you could turn any activity into an Olympic discipline, what would you have a pretty good chance at winning a gold medal for?
Standing on the deck yelling, “Stop wrecking your feed bucket/water trough/the fence/your sibling!” at horses.
If animals could talk, what would your cat say about you?
Oh geez, something really embarrassing like… “Mumma E is the best mumma, but needs to stop calling me Precious Purrpurreeni, and telling me that I have the cutest beh-wee and pawpees. My name is Smudge, and the correct words are belly and paws.”
What are your three “if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend” books in lesbian fiction?
Choosing only three is agony! Especially if they have to be “pure lesfic” which means I can’t really choose The Traitor Baru Cormorant and its sequel The Monster Baru Cormorant which feature a queer female lead, but to me aren’t classified as lesfic. Oh, whoops, I just did mention them… Cough cough, sorrynotsorry.
For real though:
- Benny Lawrence’s Rabbits of the Apocalypse – because the humour hits me square on the funny bone, the character voice is fabulous, and the book is a really interesting take on the post-apoc genre.
- Meghan O’Brien’s Wild (especially audio) – a fabulous plot, sexy as hell, and so well executed.
- Jessica L. Webb’s Trigger – such an interesting concept, and I have a huge character crush on Andy Wyles.
When’s your next book coming out, and what are you working on right now?
Sometime late in 2019 – If the Shoe Fits which focuses on Jana, Sabine Fleischer’s sister from Ask, Tell and Ask Me Again. Instead of books where my characters are already set in their lady-loving ways, I wanted to write a novel about an adult woman realising for the first time that they might be into ladies. Jana nudged me to say maybe there’s a reason she’s so fussy about every guy she dates. I’m also flipping between a bunch of different projects, including my historical fiction, a post-apocalyptic novel, a humorous romance, a dramatic romance, and whatever else pops into my head as an ‘OMG, must write’ like this spy/assassin series that I keep thinking about.
Help, I don’t have enough time.
Where can your readers find out more about you and your books?
The Bella Books site is the best place to check out my work: www.bellabooks.com
If anyone wants to chat and help me procrastinate, I’m always around on Twitter (probably too much…) @zgrokit
Or you can message me on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/ejnoyes/
E.J. is graciously giving away two paperback copies of her new release, Alone.
She’ll ship worldwide, so anyone can enter. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment on this blog post.
Entries close on Thursday, June 13, 2019, 10 a.m. CET, when I’ll draw the winners using a random numbers generator. I’ll notify winners via email. Your email address won’t be used for any other purpose.
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