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Interview with Hal Bodner

Today I welcome author Hal Bodner to Cloth's Chapel! Hal is the author of the best selling gay vampire novel, Bite Club and the tremendously funny sequel, The Trouble With Hairy.  According to Hal, he tells everyone he was born in East Philadelphia because so few people know where Cherry Hill, New Jersey is located. The first person he saw in his life was C. Everet Coop, future US Surgeon General, who delivered him.  Thus, Hal was ironically destined to become a heavy smoker.

He moved to West Hollywood in the 1980s and has rarely left the city limits during the past twenty years.  Hal is so WeHo-centric that he cannot find his way around Beverly Hills, the next town over.


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BKE: “Bite Club” came out in 2005. So, in returning to your characters Chris and Troy, did you feel any apprehension in resurrecting them, or was it like meeting up again with old friends?
 
HB: The answer is… neither! Actually, I began writing “Hairy” almost immediately after I finished “Bite Club”.  I don’t think I’d even finished the edits on the first book before I started on the second one.  It wasn’t a delay in writing but rather one in publishing.

At the time, Alyson Books (which had long been the premier publisher of legitimate gay and lesbian literature) was going through a huge metamorphosis.  They’d hired a new publisher/editor in chief who I did NOT get along with.  At the time, I thought it was limited to a personality conflict between her and me.  Later, I discovered how universally loathed she was.  At any rate, the situation was bad enough for me to leave Alyson entirely.

 

I was in the middle of looking for a new publisher when my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly.  I bottomed out and spent the next 18 months or so sprawled on the couch with the television remote. I watched the Sony logo from the DVD player bouncing around the screen because I was so depressed that it was too much effort for me to get up and put an actual DVD into the machine.  I think I may have memorized the algorithm or something because, to this day, I can predict where the logo is going to go next!

By the time I started to feel human again – which was almost two years later – I had to start from scratch looking for a new publisher.  It was brutal!!! Almost everyone I spoke with loved the books but, as it turned out, they were very hesitant to publish them due to the gay content.  It wasn’t that there was any explicit gay sex in either book; there wasn’t.   But the whole comic tone of the book was irrevocably “gay” in that it was what we call high camp.
 
Agents, publishers, marketing people were just terrified that it wouldn’t sell.  I’d wave the sales figures for “Bite Club” in front of them and they’d STILL hem and haw.  “Bite Club”, by the way, did phenomenally well; the royalties practically bought my house!  Even so, I could NOT get a publisher for “Hairy” for a long time.

 

And if I may “foreshadow” a bit, I began writing the third installment of the Chris and Troy books, “Mummy Dearest”, as soon as the edits on “Hairy” were finished.   I immediately ran into problems.  I think that because I was still grieving and didn’t consciously realize it, I had a hell of a time balancing all of the characters and plots and subplots. I just could NOT manage to keep my mind clear.
 
And the villains! To this day, I’m still not happy with the bad guys in “Mummy Dearest.”   I need to somehow find the time to sit down, rip the book into shreds, work on whipping the villains into shape and cut several hundred pages from the novel.
 
The odd thing is that when I re-read “Bite Club” and “The Trouble With Hairy”, I’m amazed at how damned funny they are – especially “Hairy”.  In a way, I’ve intimidated myself.  I’m a bit afraid to trying to tackle the edits on “Mummy Dearest” for fear that I’m not able to write as well or as funny as I used to!
 

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BKE: What inspires you to write?
 
HD: Oh gods. That is SUCH a hard question to answer.  I wrote “Bite Club” originally because we were in the heat of the AIDS epidemic and I felt the disease was stealing more than just unfulfilled promise from our community. I felt it had also cost us our sense of humor.  Gay culture has always held a certain type of humor in high regard and, due to the fact that our friends and lovers were dropping like flies, we began to take ourselves very seriously.  I’m not at all suggesting that we should have treated what was going on lightly – far from it.  But, AIDS was rapidly leaching all joy out of our culture.  “Bite Club” was my attempt to try and preserve some of that campiness.

Then, of course, novels are rather like potato chips.  You can’t stop at just one!

I think that, now, what inspires me to write are ideas.  I get these glimmers of what my friend P.D. Cacek used to call “what ifs”.   I never used to understand what she meant by that. Now, every so often, I’ll start thinking, “What if XYZ happened?”  Suddenly, there’s an idea for a novel percolating in my head and then all I have to do is find the time to write the blasted thing!

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BKE: You’ve owned a pet store, which is now an exotic bird store. Care to share any memorable moments as a fine purveyor of animal life?

HB: People are insane.
 
I spent most of my professional career as an entertainment lawyer and only took up retail after I retired.  I always thought we showbiz folks were quirky and a little nuts.  But we are absolutely normal compared to some of the lunatics who pass through the doors of the average retail shop on a daily basis.
 
At first, I thought it was because animal/pet people are all a little coo-coo.  Now, however, I think it’s just retail in general. The sad thing is that as the economy worsens it’s very hard to maintain a sense of humor about things.  Some customers are just vicious and, sadly, I have to fight really hard not to respond in kind – and I’m not always successful.

The Cuckoo Bird

We had a young lady working for us for about four months and she was wonderful with the animals.  One day she came into work and announced, “People in LA are rude, dishonest, cheap, entitled and nasty.”   My partner and I were all, “And your point is…?”  because we were so used to customers behaving badly.  But she was from Minnesota or some place where, apparently, people are still civil to each other.  In any case, she high-tailed it back to the Midwest and I suspect she’s much happier there.

As for my most memorable moment, I’d have to say it was at my old pet shop when one woman tried to return a bag of cat litter because “…the cat didn’t like it.”  But she was lying.  How did we know she was lying, you ask?  Well, it was because the litter was USED!!!   I know it sounds insane but she had scraped the used litter – cat poop and all! – back into the bag and tried to return it.  
 
The truly sad thing is that incidents very similar to this happen weekly.  In fact, we always joke about putting a big sign in the front window that says: This Business Participates in A Day Without Crazy. Please Help Us Win.

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BKE: As somebody who isn’t afraid to share their opinion, a quality I truly admire, can you tell me what type of horror story just pisses you right off? 

HB: I loathe novels where the author is completely derivative.  They think just because they’ve read a few zombie, or vampire or whatever books, they can write one.  Either there’s nothing original in the thing or there’s a single “new” idea which ends up being not-so-new after all, poorly developed and what I call a “one joke wonder” in that it’s not enough to sustain an entire novel.

I also detest self-indulgent authors, the ones who are writing based on something that happened to them and which has taken on a great emotional importance.  In most cases, they feel the incident itself is so devastating or whatever that they can dispense with the elements of good story telling as the incident alone can carry the book.  They’re wrong, of course. What you end up with is little more than badly written literary masturbation. 

I also have a pet peeve when it comes to those novels that read like novelizations of bad role playing games.  I’m not talking about the kind of stuff that White Wolf used to do. Some of that was quite good and they used some authors who later became very well respected.
 
I’m talking about those books where the author has warring clans of critters who, in spite of their supernatural status, all end up using various guns (which the author describes as if s/he was writing for a weapons catalogue) on each other.  There’s always some kind of secret hidden society. Often, there’s clandestine government involvement so the author can use phrases like “Black Ops” and similar techno-mumbo jumbo.  These books end up taking themselves far too seriously and usually come in a series of  so-called chronicles or sagas -- “The Chronicles of Whatsis, Book Three”  The author has usually created this gigantic mythology—often inconsistent within itself—and assumes the reader will be so fascinated by the construct that they’ll overlook the fact that the story itself stinks.

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BKE: What project are you currently working on?

HB: Let’s see.  At the moment, my biggest project is trying to find the time to work on all of the other projects I’m working on!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve still got to edit and condense the third Chris and Troy book, “Mummy Dearest”.  Some time ago I started work on the one after that, “I’ve Got You Into Your Skin” but it’s going to be awhile before I can get back to it.

I’ve got a new super hero series coming out soon.  The first book is called “Fabulous in Tights”, followed by “The Wrong Shade of Turquoise” and “A Study in Spandex”.   They’re all about a very reluctant super hero who, while he feels obligated to use his powers for good, doesn't much like doing it.  It’s very funny and VERY caustic.  I was able (I hope!) to channel some of the bitterness I experienced after my husband died into some clever bitchiness.
 
 The first two are finished.  I recently decided to scrap what I’d already written on the third one in favor of something that’s a lot more fun to write.  I think, when I start taking myself seriously while writing these things, I get into trouble.  But, if I concentrate on the possibilities inherent in the crazy costumed villains, I can have a blast writing them.

I’ve also been trying to get the right angle on my first science fiction novel. I’ve made something like six false starts—some of them quite lengthy.  But somehow I can NOT seem to get the proper handle on the thing.  Nevertheless, my instincts tell me there’s a hoot of a book there so I keep slogging away at it. 

Finally, for much of my writing career I’ve sort of become well known for telling people “I don’t do short stuff.”   The short story format, for me, is an incredibly difficult one to work in.  But given the realities of running a business full time, maintaining a household where the house itself seems perpetually under construction and/or renovation, keeping up with a boyfriend who’s twenty-some years younger, taking care of two dogs and four parrots and failing miserably to find the time to do everything else I need to do on a weekly basis, I’ve been looking at the short story format with great interest recently.  If I can manage the technique, I may need to start working in that venue as well for the next couple of years while I try to free up enough time to get back to the novels!

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 Hal Bodner has been an entertainment lawyer, a scheduler for a 976 sex telephone line, a theater reviewer and the personal assistant to a television star.  For awhile, he owned Heavy Petting, a pet boutique where all the movie stars shopped for their Pomeranians. Currently, he owns an exotic bird shop.

 

           He has never been a waiter.

            He lives with assorted dogs, and birds, the most notable of which is an eighty year old irritable, flesh-eating military macaw named after his icon – Tallulah.  He often quips he is a slave to fur and feathers and regrets only that he isn’t referring to mink and marabou.  He does not have cats because he tends to sneeze on them.

            Rapidly approaching middle-age, he remembers Nixon.

            He got “married” very late in life to an incredible man.  Sadly, after five amazing, if turbulent, years he was widowed and can sometimes be found sunbathing at his husband’s grave while trying to avoid cemetery caretakers screaming at him to put his shirt back on.

            Hal recently took a crack at writing erotic paranormal romance -- which he refers to as “supernatural smut” -- with In Flesh and Stone and For Love of the Dead.  While he enjoyed writing them immensely, he has resolved to return to his comedic roots with additional “Chris and Troy” novels.

            He blushes to admit he is currently romantically involved with a man roughly half his age.  As a result, he has recently discovered that the use of hair dye is evidently not an adequate replacement for Viagra.

              You can read more about Hal at www.wehovampire.com though since Hal is a cyber-moron and a complete technophobe, the website is almost never up to date so you should probably just try to reach him on Facebook!

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