Interview with Damon Suede, Hot Head’s author

Hi Damon! Thanks so much for your time! You truly are one of my favorite writers and “Hot Head” really touched me in the heart, I’ll never forget it! I thank Italian Dreamspinner Press for having translated the book!

I read you got many jobs and you traveled a lot. Have you always been interested in writing? It’s your passion?

Damon: I write scripts for as living: film and theatre mostly, although I’ve done some TV (for my sins). I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and telling stories since I could talk. It’s very much who I am and what I love. 🙂 Emily Dickinson wrote a poem that I always think of when people ask me why writing is so important to me:

Essential Oils – are wrung –

The Attar from the Rose

Be not expressed by Suns – alone –

It is the gift of Screws..

I believe that writing is a “gift of screws.” Actually, all art squeezes beauty and power and meaning out of the crazy, ugly, odd world around us, especially in moments when meaning and beauty are hard to find. Art lets us share those impossible moments with each other and THAT is why I’m a writer. I wring everything I can out of every moment I have to live. And Romance (in particular) has been like a wonderful exotic lagoon for my Muse! I get to play and dream and make fun of myself without feeling so scrutinized.

 

How did you get the idea of your first story?

Damon: Ack! Hard question. For simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on romance fiction. My first romance novel “Hot Head”, was inspired by a true story that I couldn’t get out of my head.

One of my closest friends is a fierce, funny lady who spent seven years having affairs with gorgeous, married firefighters. All of these relationships were very Puccini: shrieking and blood and big bunches of long-stem roses. In this period of years, I spent a lot of times listening to sexy, depressed Firemen who hopelessly addicted to danger and suffering, even their own.

One night, I’m drinking whiskey with this gigantic fireman with scarred arms (and two ex-wives) telling stupid sex stories to try and gross each other out. It’s late and my friend is asleep.  He’s a little drunk and telling me that I’m pretty cool for a gay guy and generally being very sensitive and hip.

About halfway through the bottle of whiskey, he goes silent for a while… I thought he was just drunk and exhausted, and was about to suggest we go to bed, when he says, “I was in love with a dude, once.” I stayed quiet and he explained that he’d fallen for his best friend who worked at a different firehouse. Both of them straight firemen. They’d shared girls in the bedroom and known each other since high school. Sumemr of 2001 they’d had a fight over a threeway when this guy had “gotten weird” but couldn’t confess to his buddy that the weirdness was love. 

And then World Trade Center fell and his best friend died in the towers. They’d both rushed down to lower Manhattan to work the scene, but only this man had come out alive. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the agony on his face… the ruin and disappointment he still carried, and the terrible, hopeless love for his dead friend.

So much patience, so much pain, and this impossible, crushing secret he could never share with anyone he knew… except some gay guy he hardly knew who he’d only told because he hoped I’d understand. And I did, I did. 🙁

Hot Head” came out of the tragedy and longing I saw that night. I wrote it to get his buddy out of the Twin Towers alive, and to give those two firefighters their happy ending, the way it should have been.

 

How the 11 September affected your story? Do you think that telling the story helped you somehow to go through the tragedy?

Damon: No question. I’m a New Yorker and I watched the attacks close-up, so I couldn’t ignore the horror because my two heroes were firefighters. In a sense the entire novel is a love letter to the courage of New York and the way the city survived and thrived in the face of tragedy. A lot of assumptions and ruts got destroyed along with the World Trade Center. We were transformed and “Hot Head” reflects a lot of the stuff I experienced and witnessed.

I also did a LOT of research about the attacks and their aftermath, and discovered details I’d known nothing about. So in a way “Hot Head” also made me process the tragedy more completely than I had before. I visited hospitals and firehouses, walked the neighborhood around Ground Zero, interviewed firemen and cops, and spent a LOT of time in FDNY bars listening to personal anecdotes . Because of my friend dating so many firemen, I knew a lot of guys stationed at the Pit, and cops as well, because my boyfriend worked that crime scene as a federal agent.

There’s a part of yourself in Dante and Griff characters?

Damon: Yes and no. I think there are parts of me in all my characters. Splinters of my life always embed themselves in my people.  When I’m reading a book, I want each story to dazzle me and drag me under. I want to feel like I’ve hung out with real human beings. So I tend to build my characters with that in mind, letting them reveal themselves slowly and deeply.

Hitchcock once said that Film is “life with the dull bits cut out.” And I think that holds true for fiction as well. We all have heroic, dramatic elements in us…and storytelling offers a way to look at the startling potential of any person. I always try to find those details when I can. It’s a kind of game. Even if I’m doing something incredibly mundane, I look for the slender thread of operatic melodrama that makes it fabulous and fascinating. Those fiery strands end up woven into stories. Stories should transform their characters and their readers. So I cannibalize my own life and the lives of anyone I meet around me…in search of transformational specifics, both potential and kinetic.

Griff has parts of me in him as does Dante and Nicole and Loretta and Tommy and Alek… LOL They’re all me, in a way, but none of them are me, if that makes sense. Even if I’m not documenting my literal, actual day-to-day shenanigans, my writing is replete with me and my perspective. How can it not be? LOL All art reflects the viewpoint of the creator. My appetites and interests and experiences filter through everything I write.

 

Do the characters belong to imagination… or really exist firefighters like them?

Damon: Some of my favorite fan letters come from firemen! I didn’t know it for a while, but a lot of first responders (firefighters, EMTs, cops) passed “Hot Head” around because they thought it was so authentic. The first fan letter I got from a firefighter, he INSISTED that I had to be a firefighter because there was no other way I could have known those details. And then weirdly enough, I’ve had straight firemen become fans as well, mostly through their girlfriends. The ladies will read the book, love it, and then the boyfriends get curious and then the book gets passed around. That seems so crazy and beautiful! “Hot Head” being read in firehouses around the USA. 

 

I love how you describe your characters: so sincere and intense. A lot of friends of mine are rising  writers, what you want say to them?

Damon: Specificity is secret seed of all great writing. Generality and clichés are DEATH. Pay attention to the entire world by feeding your imagination with great art, great emotion, great friends, and great places. Throw away your TV. The things about you that irritate people are often the things other people admire: every sword cuts both ways. Know who you are and practice pouring yourself onto the page.

Good enough, isn’t. . Challenge yourself every day, and challenge your readers with every new project. If you write for money or attention, you’ll be miserable because they are the least of the rewards of the writing life. Write about what you care about so that you can care more. Read books that kick your ass and try to learn from them. Cultivate big eyes, a thick skin, and a full heart. Smile.  Listen. Learn how to structure stories and what keeps people turning the page. Have something to say, and then say it as well as you can. Get better every time.

Write every day. Get into the daily habit of articulation. It’s a difficult skill to cultivate and only honed by repetition and diligence. And remember: typing is not writing. I’ve been writing professionally for over 25 years and the best advice anyone ever gave me was to sit down and put words on the page no matter what, every day, without fail. It’s the simplest and the hardest thing and will help more than any other single piece of advice I could give. Don’t make any excuses or cut yourself any slack when it comes to the habit of articulating things.

 

How do you feel knowing that you have such a big and various audience? Is it touching?

Damon: Yes! The overwhelming response to my books has literally transformed my life. I’ve been a film and theatre writer for the past 20 years and fiction started out as a lark. The passion and imagination of my romance fans has changed the focus of my entire career. Writing love stories and building these books has become a major part of the way I live now and I’m endlessly grateful for the chance to tell these stories.

Hearing from my fans has been one of the greatest blessings of writing romance. After decades of working in film where writers are nearly invisible, the opportunity to discuss themes and characters with impassioned bibliophiles lifts my spirits and makes me kick my own ass so I don’t coast. Meeting with readers is literally my single favorite part of my job as a romance writer…which is why I go to so many genre conventions.

My new book (“Bad Idea”) was inspired by a random anecdote by two fans over a dinner table. I love that! Stories are first and foremost about communicating, the power of minds meeting across thousands of miles. Hey: look at you and me! Continents apart but on the same page.:) E-publishing has changed the course of literary history, and this is only the beginning. We are changing the world and the stories that get told.  The more fresh, powerful writing can find a home with discerning readers, the more every genre grows and blossoms.

 

I saw on Facebook that you wrote a new novel, a paranormal one! Can you tell me something about it? Why have you chosen  this theme?

Damon: Horn Gate” is about an incubus, a sex demon named Scratch who is rescued from imprisonment by a quiet librarian who ends up uncovering a magical conspiracy hidden in the shadows of New York. Very much like an occult comic book (à la Promethea, Vampirella, or Hellblazer) and the first in a paranormal series I’ve got planned about Scratch’s adventures.

Actually, I have a new contemporary novel coming out in the fall called “Bad Idea” which is about a comic book artist who falls in love with a guy who build monster makeup for movies. “Horn Gate” was “written” by the main character, so it’s actually a story within a story which those two lovers create in collaboration.So “Horn Gate” is actually the comic book created during “Bad Idea”  by the hero, which lets him explore his feelings for his Special FX boyfriend in paranormal terms. LOL

Of course, I know some people only read paranormal or only read contemporary, so they can be read separately, but for folks willing to read paranormal and contemporary, there are themes that cross-resonate and braid together in cool ways between the “comic” of “Horn Gate” and the creators in “Bad Idea”.

I chose the paranormal theme because my comic book artist loved occult graphic novels and they give him a safe place to think through his anxieties and hopes for his own developing relationship…with a man in the movie monster business. I think that paranormal affords authors a way to exaggerate conflicts and dilemmas externally, that might otherwiuse get buried in psychological rambling. LOL And since the main characters of “Bad Idea” have a hard time communicating, “Horn Gate” (as the comic they collaborate on) lets them be more honest and risky than they would be otherwise.

 

Do you have thought about turning “Hot Head” into a movie? I don’t like very much the movies about books but a film based on Dante and Griff could be amazing!

Damon: I’ve had three studios ask about the rights for “Hot Head”. And (because I know the movie business) I don’t think anything can come of the offers because of the expense of the action scenes. Burning down a big building is just too costly for any film company who might be willing to look at a gay fireman romance. The irony is that when I wrote “Hot Head”, I was being expensive on purpose because when I’m writing a script I CAN’T burn down buildings for fear of blowing up the budget. In a novel, action scenes don’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much as I’d love to see it, and as often as studio executives have sent out feelers to my agent and my lawyer, I just don’t see anyone taking something like that on… Maybe someday down the line, although getting that couch scene on film might get us all arrested in a couple countries! 🙂

 

Would you work in a porn website the help the one you love? Where you found the idea for the book?

Damon: If I had no other choice I would, but I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d have no better choice. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for love, but I know a little too much about pornography as an environment to go into it without deep skepticism.

I haven’t done that kind of work personally, but in my twenties I (weirdly) dated a lot of people in the porn industry. It’s a strange, lonely business and extremely unsexy on the whole. Because I know a lot of guys who do that kind of work, even now, I knew enough to understand how seductive and dangerous that money would be to someone gorgeous and desperate like Dante.

The porn elements in “Hot Head” came from that familiarity and the explosion of online porn in the 2000s. Much like law enforcement and other first response jobs, porn has always drawn heavily on veterans of the armed services. Loads of available talent: young, built, willing, and broke with constant turnover. Virtually every major online pornsite (straight or gay) operates within a thirty minute drive of a military base.

“Hot Head” was about firefighters. The fellas I know in the FDNY consume VAST quantities of porn, love porn, discuss porn… and all joke about doing porn. Very few of them can survive on their wages so they ALL have part-time jobs as bouncers and builders (same as military guys, actually). Plus, like the military, fire service has a tendency towards hot-guys/low-pay/no-fear/no-shame. Porn is a logical step.

I also knew about FDNY fireman Michael Biserta and his legendarily huge cock that got him into so much trouble: the FDNY’s annual  calendar shut down because of him turning up in a softcore porn video/scandal. For some reason this was seen as a “disgrace” for the firefighter community. Bizarre. Anyways, all these details kind of swirled together to create HotHead.com… a porno website in NYC that paid uniformed men to strip for cash: firefighters, cops, paramedics. And what kind of fireman would risk that kind of exposure? Dante, the hottest of hotheads. 🙂

 

Did you change the way to look at firefighters after “Hot Head”?

Damon: No question. I understand the job more, both its positives and negatives. They are insanely heroic, but they’re also insane. In one sense they’re treated like demigods and in another they get paid and dismissed like janitors. It’s a very weird ecosystem. The FDNY is largely hereditary so you have entire families that sign up to risk their lives because their parents and siblings expect them too.

I think “Hot Head” made me empathize with them in a specific way. They are trapped, but social pressure and changing morality, and the persistence of catastrophes keep them locked in the past. They are one of the last “white knight” jobs that actually resemble medieval warriors. Big, strong, fearless, tortured. And that in itself is wildly romantic. By the same token, they are also anachronistic, prejudiced, and slow to evolve which has made them no friends in the minority communities they serve. The FDNY is getting better but at a glacial pace. Mainly what I see is the change that has come and the change that still needs to happen. I respect the courage and I applaud anyone in the system willing to fight for equality. THAT is heroic!

 

Do you write only when you are inspired or following a specific schedule?

Damon: See above! I write every day, sometimes for up to 18 hour a day. Inspiration is all well and good, but if I get inspired when I’m walking down the street or sitting in the park, it’s not that easy for me to dash to the computer or the notebook to scribble down words. I’d much rather have the tools at hand to get the tale told. And  by training my Muse that the tools will be there at certain times every day, I’ve found that inspiration tends to come when I’m at my desk MUCH more often… J Sure I still get struck by lightning in the shower, but less than if I just lolled around waiting to “catch” inspiration like a demented butterfly. LOLOL

The thing is, ideas pour out of me like sweat and it’s all I can do to frantically get things down so I can move on to the next thing that’s inspiring me. I never understand how people claim to “run out” of ideas because they world is swollen to bursting with characters and moments and discoveries that need sharing.

Telling stories, meeting characters, and fleshing out worlds that readers can inhabit seems like the most wonderful job in the world. You know what we remember about every ancient culture? Their stories. Stories close gaps, across miles and millennia. Narrative gives us context and framework throughout our lives. So, every chance I get, I’m at the keyboard trying to put letters together into words, words together into sentences that will let my mind touch someone else’s. Rigor, vigor… those are the things to cultivate. Ideas are the EASY part. The craft and the diligence to make something out of ideas are much rarer and harder won.

So yeah… I’m all for inspiration, but I write every day without exception and hope that inspiration happens when I’m sitting at the keyboard. 🙂

 

Do you think you’ll write a sequel to Hot Head?

Damon: No question!

Actually that’s a question I get asked daily by more people than I’d care to admit. I promise the sequel to “Hot Head” will definitely be written… The title is “Hard Head” and it is Tommy’s story. In truth the entirety of “Hard Head” has already been OVER-written. In 2012, I put two hundred and fifty eight thousand words on the page, but they aren’t structured or paced properly so they aren’t even a LITTLE publishable. Tommy was such a tricky character to get hold of properly…so dark and tortured, and he really wrung me out creatively. I fretted and agonized over him and his journey. His book has haunted and tortured me because I want to get it right and it’s turned out to be so difficult…like catching lighting in a jar. I had to set him (and “Hard Head”) aside for my own sanity! LOL I WILL get it done, but I’m trying to be sensible and let the book come in its own time.

My entire 2012 was spent trying to get it finished and the process almost killed me! That isn’t really a joke: I stopped eating and sleeping for several months because I was tied in knots by the characters and the challenge of catching them on the page in a way the honored the world and told their story fully. 🙁 Tommy’s darkness and self-destructive impulses did hideous things to me because I wanted to help him find his redemption and he fought against it, brick and bone.

I just love these characters to much to get this book wrong. Griff and Dante are very much a part of Tommy’s life, so they’re back as well… and the other Hot Hookers. The experience was humbling in the extreme, I’ll tell you! What it taught me was that different books need different times to percolate. “Hard Head” just needed time to mix and fizz before it would be ready for me to wrestle it into book-shape.

But I promise the book will get finished when Tommy gives me permission. He deserves a book that tells his story properly and I mean to give it to him! 🙂

 

Thank you so much. I’m honored to count you among my interviews, this means a lot to me.

Damon: You are most welcome, Regin! Thank you for the insightful and inspiring questions. You got me so fizzy that now I have to go write again! Many many thanks, my love!