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A Conversation with Rachel Haimowitz

Continuing our celebration of Pride Month, our LGBTQ Director, Amanda Jean, sits down with author and editor, Rachel Haimowitz. As an editor, Rachel has worked at Avalon Publishing, Pearson/ NAF, and Upper Deck Entertainment. She began where most of us do (with copyediting and slush pile reading) and eventually advanced all the way through to acquisitions and editorial team management. When she left Manhattan publishing to freelance, she went on to developmental edit a number of projects, including two national bestsellers and a 2010 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year winner. She’s also worked as a ghostwriter and a copyeditor, and launched and operated a retail store for seven successful years before selling to focus on the world of publishing at Riptide Publishing.

As an author, Rachel penned the bestselling M/M fantasy series, Song of the Fallen (Counterpoint and Crescendo), co-authored the multiple-award-winning Power Play series, and has attracted her fair share of controversy with both the Belonging series and the Flesh Cartel serial, co-authored with Heidi Belleau. She’s been published with a number of romance presses, and has written articles for venues ranging from The Huffington Post to USA Today. To learn more about Rachel-the-author, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, on Twitter, chatting in the Goodreads forums, and blogging when she can.

AMANDA JEAN: I know you have a history of working in cable news, but was publishing always your first choice for a career?
RACHEL HAIMOWITZ: This depends how far back you go. When I was very young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. In high school, I was a professional clown. I went to college on a pre-law track, then got my EMT certification, fell in love, and switched to a pre-med track. There was a lot of very interesting meandering after that: I quit school, opened a game store, finished my first novel (which shall never see the light of day), started writing Magic: The Gathering columns, and eventually got hired by Upper Deck Entertainment to work on their Yu-Gi-Oh!, World of Warcraft, and Marvel/DC properties, went back to school for literature and politics, veered briefly to cable news, and then finally found my way to publishing. The one constant among it all was that I was writing—I'd always wanted to make a living as a novelist. As I got older, I became rapidly disenfranchised with news and politics and fell absolutely in love with editing and publishing, and now I’ve been kicking around that industry for the last decade.

What is the appeal of LGBTQ fiction for you?
For starters, I’m queer myself: I’m asexual, and that understandably caused some relationship issues and personal crises before I had the vocabulary to conceptualize that I wasn’t broken and had a community to reinforce that understanding. I’m also kind of a raging sadist—something I knew when I was six years old, by the way, and which informs virtually every aspect of my life, so I view this very much as a part of my orientation, rather than a hobby or a habit. Being a sexual sadist who isn’t actually interested in sex made my journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance significantly more complicated than I think it would’ve been had I been only one or the other (Am I a bad person? Is this wrong? People like to hurt people while they’re naked?? You see my problem. :-p ).

All of which is a long way of saying both that I wish these books had existed when I was younger (and honestly, even in my 30s) and trying to figure myself out, and also that once I had figured myself out, these books were a safe, warm, fuzzy, comfortable space for me where queerness was not erased from the world and where I could find a community of people like me sharing stories about people like me.

Which is more difficult: writing or editing fiction?
Definitely writing, although writing’s also more fun than editing. I find developmental editing to be a wonderful challenge—you’ve got a huge heap of puzzle pieces in front of you, and some of them are not put together quite right or are jammed in next to the wrong piece, and some of them are simply missing, and some are extras from a different puzzle and don’t belong here at all, and it’s your job to fix all that. I love it. LOVE it. But it’s always easier to see how the puzzle is wrong when you’re looking at someone else’s work because you’re not too close to it. Plus, it’s easier to work with existing pieces than to create pieces from scratch, which is what you need to do when you write.

Tell me about the first novel you ever finished—published or not.
Haha, oh my gosh. *hides face* Okay, so I started writing this dystopian novel when I was, like, sixteen that takes place about 40 years after an extinction-level tragedy, and America, for Reasons (which are actually explained decently well in the book), has become a theocracy in which most of the survivors of the event are essentially slaves to the religious elite, and the past has been almost entirely erased even from living memory. It follows the life of a Penitent (the slave class) who has lost his faith, which is kind of a nasty rub because faith is literally all he has. Or, er, had. He’s also got a raging gay crush on his best friend, but since repopulating the country is so important, being gay is Not Okay. (Plus, theocracy.) So, that never actually goes anywhere, and in the end, rocks fall and everyone dies, more or less, and I swear to you that is actually the HAPPIEST outcome you could reasonably have expected. Anyway, the bones are good, I guess? It took me, like, eight years to finish that book, and it’s such an amateur-hour pile. Which, I mean, of course it is—everyone’s first book is an amateur-hour pile where you self-indulge and drop clichés everywhere and have your characters wake up from dreams and look at themselves in mirrors and generally navel-gaze for far too long, and that’s totally okay because you learn how to write well by writing, and everyone’s writing is bad at first. One day, I might shake the dust off that thing and just rewrite it top to bottom, but for now, I’m content to leave it where it is, quietly moldering on a hard drive.

What’s your favorite genre within the LGBTQ umbrella?
I love speculative fiction of all stripes: fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc.

What do you do in your free time? Reading’s a given, of course, but outside of that...?
I unfortunately don’t have a whole lot of free time right now, and I try to keep my writing alive in what little time I do have. When I need to get away from the computer and decompress, I go hiking—I’ve hiked probably close to a thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail, and one day, I’d like to hike the other thousand and change. I also have weird hobbies from my teenage years: I juggle, I throw knives. It’s all very rhythmic and mindless and mildly physical, and I find it almost meditative (unless I’m trying to remember how to juggle four clubs, and then it’s panicky and spastic). I also watch a lot of serial dramas on TV because I love long, complex narrative arcs with deep characterizations, but when you read all day for a living, you don’t always want to read for fun, too, so you seek that narrative complexity in other mediums.

As a publisher and editor, you see all sorts of queries and submissions from authors seeking publication. What’s your advice to authors who want their work to stand out?
Perfect your craft. I can’t tell you how many brilliant ideas I’m pitched every year that I end up not buying because the writing, on a sentence-to-sentence level or on a narrative-structure level, simply isn’t strong enough. Learn sentence structure. Take a copyediting class so you understand the difference between the past perfect tense and the past continuous tense (Believe me when I say this one comes up a lot.). Know what (and why and how) each particular point of view you might choose can accomplish for you. Take a screenwriting class to get a stronger handle on the bedrock of western lit: the 3-act (or 5-act) structure. Yes, writing is art. But before you can be free to express yourself artistically, you must arm yourself with the technical skills and the tools—and the ten solid years of experience and practice—to realize your vision. It’s staggering to me how many authors skip these steps or think it doesn’t apply to them. Every one of those authors is wrong.

The LGBTQ publishing industry has been historically very focused on white cisgender gay men. Do you seek to broaden that scope, whether in your own writing or in your capacity as a publisher at Riptide?
Very much so, and I hope that’s clear without me having to say it, just by the title selection we offer at Riptide. My last two books (The Burnt Toast B&B and the Flesh Cartel serial, both co-written with the lovely and amazing Heidi Belleau) were deliberate attempts at that. Burnt Toast featured a bisexual transgender main character (and neither his sexuality nor his gender were the driving force of the story), and Flesh Cartel featured an African-American character. Over at Riptide, we’re aggressively acquiring LBTQIA stories. We have some of our first asexual stories coming out this year, which I’m hugely excited about, and several L, T, and Q stories coming out this year and early next year, also. On the B side, we already have a fairly large number of books published with characters who identify as bi or pan, and this is something we actually push in editing because correcting bisexual erasure is so important to us.

Any current projects you’re excited about?
So many! If you mean my own projects, I’m currently working on an F/M/M femdom ménage story with an older Domme (and by “older” I mean like 40, so, certainly not old, but definitely older than you typically see in romances) and two college-age male roommates who are basically giant stupid puppies tripping over their own too-big paws to try to please her. It’s silly and fun and cute, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this much writing a book before. Heidi and I will have entire 10-minute-long conversations consisting of nothing but “Lucas is SO STUPID OMG HOW CAN ANYONE BE THIS STUPID,” and it’s just… adorable.

If you mean Riptide projects, I’m very excited about Blue Steel Chain by Alex Beecroft, coming July 27. It’s a contemporary novel set in the UK, third in the Trowchester Blues series but can be read as a standalone, and it features an asexual protagonist. When you combine YAY, SOMEONE LIKE ME!!! with the sheer mindblowing talent of Alex Beecroft, you know it’s gonna be amazing. I’m also really excited about Lead Me Not by L. A. Witt, writing as Ann Gallagher, coming August 24, as this is an honest-to-god inspirational romance, except queer. I don’t think that’s ever been done before, and it’s so important that people struggling with their sexuality and their relationships with God and the church be able to see that happy endings are possible. Two other projects I’m super excited about are Minotaur by J. A. Rock, which is a 1930s historical lesbian retelling of the legend of the minotaur, coming October 19; and Y Negative, which is a transgender sci-fi novel being released by a debut author, Kelly Haworth, on October 12. Okay, I lied, one more: I’m also super excited about Dead Ringer by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler, coming October 26, which is about a young man working for a Hollywood lookalike escort agency—and is a lookalike for his ultra-famous golden-days movie-star grandfather. Which obviously creates some, erm, baggage to work through when he and a john start to fall for each other. We’re actually doing our first-ever custom photoshoot for this cover, as we wanted to capture the glamour of early Hollywood just right.

A lot of readers may be unfamiliar with LGBTQ fiction, especially romance. What’s something you hope they learn about it?
That it’s both wildly important and wildly entertaining. If you buy books from presses who are serious about quality rather than just pumping out as many books each week as they can, you’ll find that the quality is as good, if not better than, any paperback you might pick up in the airport or at Costco or at a bookstore; prepare to be entertained, moved, transported, and all those other amazing things that amazing books do to you. Which, ultimately, is why people read books, yes, but while it’s entertaining you, queer fiction is also sneakily improving the world. It’s giving queer readers mirrors in popular fiction, telling them they’re beautiful and smart and heroes in their own stories who deserve (and can have!) happy endings. It’s telling them they’re not alone. It’s telling them they’re not broken. And for straight readers, queer fiction is telling them some very important things, too: It’s showing them that the world is not all cisgendered and heterosexual. It’s telling them that queer people are people, just like them, that they deserve happy lives and happy endings and to be the heroes in their own stories. It’s erasing the concept of “otherness” and quietly erasing prejudice from people’s minds. It’s important for everyone. Support it. Buy it. Read it. You’ll love it, and you’ll be doing good in the world.

AMANDA JEAN is a publicist for Alternating Current Press and the LGBTQ Director for The Spark. She is also an editor (and writer) of LGBTQ romance, and when not wrangling manuscripts, she can be found watching space documentaries, looking at pictures of shoes, and attempting to read for pleasure. She has worked with Less Than Three Press, Torquere Press, Athgo International, The Typewriter, and the Seattle-based literary magazine POPLORISH, and has paid her dues writing dreary freelance content. Her latest project is coordinating and editing Silver & Gold, a queer May-December anthology published with Less Than Three Press, and it comes out in October of 2015.

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