Mel Keegan Speaks!

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Mel Keegan Speaks!
Interviewer: Leslie Peterson
Interviewee: Mel Keegan
Date(s): conducted November 2002, posted online December 2002, has an August 2003 addendum, a December 2003 addendum, and a January 2004 addendum
Medium: online
Fandom(s): original m/m fic, but also related to The Professionals
External Links: Mel Keegan Speaks!
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Mel Keegan Speaks! is a 2002 interview with m/m pro writer Mel Keegan.

Intro

"Mel Keegan has been called 'mysterious' and 'enigmatic,' and it is unusual for an interview offer to be accepted! Leslie Peterson put a few well more often-asked questions to Mel, and in the the following pages, Keegan answers all. This interview was conducted in November 2002, and information is correct at the time of this upload (early Deecember '02)."

The Questions (and excerpts from the answers)

How long have you been writing gay fiction?

For about twenty years, but the first letter I wrote to GMP was dated 1989. A genuine gentleman called Richard Dipple, then the editor in chief at GMP, gave me my first opportunity to see my gay ficton go to press. He passed away some years ago and is still missed.

How many gay novels have you written?

Twenty-six, including works in progress, but less than half have been printed. The truth is, I write faster than most publishers can publish. When GMP was bought by Prowler, then Prowler was in turn absorbed by Millivres, we went through a few years with a rather sluggish publishing schedule. The result is, I have several novels backlogged. The Internet, and DreamCraft's ability to do short print runs, offer a golden opportunity to catch up fast.

Any plans for a new contemporary novel?

Your novels aren't as raunchy as they used to be...?

The simple answer is, I didn't want to repeat myself! There's only so many ways to write juicy bits, and I'm out of ways to phrase most of them. Then there's the complex reason: a number of potential readers can be offended by too much explicitness. As a reader I have no problem with hot fiction, but as a writer I admit, I do have reservations. My novels take MONTHS to craft. They're meticuloulsy researched and they're developed over several drafts to get to the version you see between covers. I'm genuinely reluctant to be categorized simply as adult literature; seeing that label, some readers won't even open the book ... but it's dimensions more difficult to craft the stuff I do than it is to write purely adult escapism. Something in the equation doesn't work out well for me there. I'll always keep the sensual side of the relationships in the books, because for me it's most often the relationships that make the story go. Many (most? All?) of my plots won't work if you take out the passion factor! I do a lot of thrillers, or if not thrillers, then stories where characters are asked to risk their all, life and limb, for a partner. You'd only do that for your nearest and dearest. But having said that, I do want to open the door to a wider readership ... *IF* I can manage that without disappointing the readers who've been with me all along. If the door doesn't open, I'm also very happy to settle down and "return to source," repeating what worked in years gone by.

What are you working on now?

You've been called the most annoyingly unprolific writer!

That's actually the reverse of the truth: "the most annoyingly UNPUBLISHED writer" would be closer to the mark. When you have a publisher who can only do a book a year, or one book in two years, you're pretty much stuck. You're also locked into your contract ... there's a clause in almost all publisher "boiler plate" contracts that says, in no uncertain terms, they have to have right of first refusal on your next book, or even two books. Publishers are not very negotiable on this question, and it means you're just about locked in to staying with the same publisher, no matter how slowly they crank out the books — until or unless something extraordinary happens to give you a bit more freedom.
[snipped]
To return to topic...!
The difficulties in nailing down book contracts made me probably the most prolific and least published gay-novel author working at this time. My new one for GMP is entitled NOCTURNE, and will be produced about 14 years after ICE WIND AND FIRE came out. It's only the ninth book in all those years, with a gap of four years since AQUAMARINE. The hiatus must have made many readers figure Keegan had given it up and drives a bus these days. Not true. In fact, I have about 12 books backlogged ... and DreamCraft are looking at them all, with a view to bringing them out back-to-back with the HELLGATE series, and in addition to the old titles which, when they fall out of print with GMP/Millivres, may not see light of day again (more about that later).

So how many books can we look forward to in the short term?

Depends what you mean by short term! In the next year, I'd like to see HELLGATE #3 ready to ship by Christmas 2003, and EQUINOX back in print. DreamCraft will have no problem with this, in principle. Then the unforseeable will crop up, Murphy's Law will slam into effect and slow everything up ... but you *can* look forward to seven HELLGATE books, plus EQUINOX and a third NARC book, plus two historicals and perhaps a fantasy, in about the next 3 years. I'm playing catch-up, having fun excavating through the desk drawers where most of my work of the last decade lives.

And what's your next book with Millivres?

What's the situation between you and Millivres?

What went askew with the production values on AQUAMARINE?

The rumor mill says you've acquired the rights to EQUNOX...

A third NARC (Jarrat & Stone) book...?

You do a lot of research...

A lot. I acquired the nickname of 'the research demon' a long time ago. To me, the research is one of the best parts of being a writer, but it's not for everyone. Research plays a big part in SF and fantasy too, but it often doesn't show, particulary in fantasy. You can always flaunt your grasp of science of technology ... but — research for a fantasy?! In fact, it's vital. Readers will go along with a great deal of free invention, but it's got to be based on solid foundations: how sailing ships work, how the 'machine' of the weather works, how horses are ridden and cared for, how you drive a dog team, desert and arctic survival problems ...! The research is just as intensive, it just doesn't show, and one of the dumbest remarks I ever read came from a book critic (I forget who) who actually went on record saying, "Fantasy fiction is written by people who don't have the patience to do research." I beg to differ. When a fantasy works well, it's built on sound research foundations. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

...but some military lingo in HELLGATE is "different"...

What can you say about HELLGATE without giving away the plot?

So what happens to the old GMP titles as they go out of print?

That's an excellent question, and not one I can answer in the short term, since it contains too many variable elements. If Millivres is in the process of restructuring the paperback list, they may begin reprints again. DreamCraft has already undertaken to do EQUINOX, so that one would not be appearing from Millivres (except under special contract) ... but Millivres did do a second edition of ICE, WIND AND FIRE, DEATH'S HEAD and FORTUNES OF WAR. The next one to be done would have been WHITE ROSE OF NIGHT, which has been unavailable for some time, but since EQUINOX was bypassed and the paperback list was reduced to just six titles a year, I can't see that WHITE ROSE would be on anyone's schedule.
The rights to EQUINOX passed back to me, also, when the 1992 ten-year contract expired, and I'm very happy to have DreamCraft handle the reprint, and market via the Internet. I have the strongest possible feeling that Internet-driven sales are the way to go. Bookstores are the adventure playground of the booklover, and the front-lines battlefield of the publisher! Depending on the part of the world you come from, the retail price of a book can be divided in a way that sends as little as 20% of the point-of-sale fee back to the publisher. The retailer can receive as much as 50% of the cover price ... then there is a distributor, and on and on back down the chain. If a book is retailed at, say, US$14.95, the publisher will see a maximum of $4 for each copy sold ... and up to 75% of copies suppied to bookstores can be returned to the warehouse as"unsaleable," because they were spoiled in transit or on the shelf. The publisher must pay the writer, cover artist, editor, typesetter. printer, shipping company and pick up some form of advertising ... I often wonder how they break even at all.
Against all of that, you've got the Internet. Just the other day I read of a woman who wrote a real-life experience diet book, took out a hotmail account and sold 1,000 copies of her book on the day of release. She'd probably been interviewed in local papers when the book went to press and the magic of the Internet did the rest. The hardest part about marketing on the Web is getting people onto the the site. If ten people find the site, one will buy a book, so you need 10,000 visitors to find 1,000 readers. DreamCraft is about to launch into a major ad-campaign for this site ... we're about to put the whole concept to the test. What happens in the next half year will, to a very great extent, decide what happens in the next decade. If DreamCraft encounters the reader-support we're all hoping to see, there's no reason why any of the books should be out of print, and no reason why new ones shouldn't be issued at regular intervals.

When commenting on EAST WIND, you mentioned a sequel...

NEW SECTION FOR AUGUST 2003:

Any further news about your new book with Millivres?

Someone on Amazon was was hoping for a Keegan fantasy...

What can you tell us about the special edition DEATH'S HEAD?

Most of your books books involve military or paramilitary plots...

Most of my plots are action-thrillers, and where you have the good guys racing around in fast cars, shooting high-tech weapons and blowing things up, our heroes will almost certainly belong to the police or the military! When civilians do the kind of things my heroes do, they usually get arrested ... or they're on the run, like the characters in STORM TIDE. But the guys in STORM TIDE spend virtually the whole book in flight, and there's only so far you can go with that. If you want a modern or SF thriller, Hollywood has pretty much mapped it out for us: it's about guns, planes, cars and explosions ... police, army, fire sevice, something like that. In historicals you can get away from this pattern; FORTUNES OF WAR deals with guys operaing far outside the law. In their world there was no law, save for what they made themselves. In AN EAST WIND BLOWING, there's law all right ... the law of chieftain and tribe. But in those people were at war anyway, and professional warriors like Ronan and Bryn may not have worn the uniform, but they were military. In THE DECEIVERS, however, I managed to find a niche where I could have very exciting parts to the story, pitting people against the violence of the elements, yet not have to fall back on the Hollywood staples. There's a gunfight in DECEIVERS and a couple of shipwrecks, but nothing has to be blown up. You can have this departure from the 'norm' of the paramilitary or military, because in the world of Bill Ryan and Jim Hale, a certain degree of reckless action and very real danger was so routine, they lived with it, accepted it as an every-day experience.

Did you ever think of writing, say, a 'simple' romance story?

Every novel I've done has a romance at its core, and I like to think that if you strip the rest of the story away, the bare romance will still stand up well. The difficulty is, if you strip away the rest of the story, the romance is quite short, certainly not novel-length. Now, I'd have to go back in and expand the whole thing back up again ... and not do it with action, thriller, mystery or adventure. It'd be an interesting project! But I think there are writers who would make a much better job of this than me. 'Horses for courses,' as they say. I think I know what I do well, and I'd like to stick with what I do best, at least for the time being, when there are so many books left in the desk drawer!

How's the DreamCraft deal working out?

"Here's the painting, kids." -- art by Jade

Tell us about the new book, DECEIVERS ... no plot spoilers!

And the characters in this book...?

I really like these characters, and I know that comes through in the book. You can always tell when a writer is a little bit in love with the characters! There's some excellent villains, and at least three extremely attractive heroes (including a secondary character I wish I could have done more with! He's actually irresistable, a rambler and a gambler with an in-your-face attitude — Joel Tremayne). Bill Ryan and Jim Hale are your central characters; Bill's a few years older and ex-Navy. Jim's 25 and the heir to a cargo-shipping company that's going up on the rocks even faster than the ships in its tiny, dwindling fleet. Jim is younger and far more inexperienced in the 'big wide world,' but he's also tough as nails. In fact, one of the beta-readers for this story (a long time in the past) actually said he thought Jim was the tougher character of the two. But Bill Ryan has some of the qualities of a bomb on a short fuse: he's hiding some pretty terrible secrets, and there's quite a lot of angst in the story, when the whole thing comes out in' the wash.
Yes, I like these characters a lot. The faces put to them, by Jade also help to bring them alive. I was finally pinned down and had to think what they look like! I nominated three cricketers, a footballer, two 1960s-era actors and a model out of one of the old Vulcan heating systems commercials! I was, frankly, skeptical about what in the world Jade could do with that motley crew ... and they wouldn't let me see the painting till at least all the cover elements were done, pending composition. I was stunned. To put it mildly.
Here's the painting, kids. You see if you can pick the sportsmen and actors. You'll be forgiven for not being able to pick the Vulcan commercial model ... it was 1972, and the commercial only appeared in Australian magazines. The fact is, you can't pick any one face any longer, and the end result is amazing. These faces *are* Bill Ryan and Jim Hale, at least in my mind.

It's another sailing ship adventure?

Almost all of your novels involve ships of some kind...

And DECEIVERS is set against a real historical background?

And the locatons for DECEIVERS sound so real...

NEW SECTION FOR DECEMBER 2003

A reader recently asked if there's a sequel to DECEIVERS!

How's the research going for DEAD OF WINTER?

Tell us about the character faces on the new Hellgate book... They look familiar! (in another version of this interview, the question is "Tell us about the Travers and Marin faces on the new book!")

cover of the original "Hellgate" -- "In conference with Mel, I went through a ream of sketches. A soccer player, two actors, and a rock singer all contributed to Jarrat's 'real' face ... and it took three actors and a rugby player to get Stoney down! Then the fun began." -- comments by Jade at MEL KEEGAN TALKS ABOUT DEATH'S HEAD
They should! They're 'icon' characters which have been a staple of Television for decades. Gay adventures with a romance at the core have a great deal in common with the 'buddy shows' which have been so popular over the years. When TV producers are casting the parts for the characters, it's a 'given' that the characters (and by extension, the actors), must look in all ways different. From the mid-60s right through till the end of the buddy-show era, the favorite match was a taller, more robust guy and a slender, smaller one, and in virtually every instance, there was one dark and one fair, and almost always one with curly hair, one with straight ... is anyone old enough to recall Alias Smith & Jones, CHiPs, Starsky & Hutch, The Professionals, Battlestar Galactica, Blake's 7? Even as late as The Sentinel and Highlander the casting agencies were still following the tried-and-proven pattern. The fact is, it's also easier for the writer to nail down the characters if they look distinctly different.
When we're trying to plan the covers, I tell the artist what or who I think the characters look like, often naming a half dozen different faces ... cricketers, rugby players, actors, models. Then it's over to Jade, and the magic mouse-pen. The paintings take a long time and the faces are combined to achieve a final composite, and here's where it gets clever:
Three readers could look at the same character and recognize three different 'sources' for the face. The end result is familiarity, which is what we're looking for!
The faces on the cover of DEEP SKY are composited from four different sources ... I'll leave it to you, right here, to see who reminds you of whom!

NEW SECTION FOR JANUARY 2004

NOCTURNE came right out of the blue; wasn't Millivres doing it?

It's so sudden: you better introduce the book here!

The research for NOCTURNE would have been a bear...

Do you read a lot of vampire fiction?

Was the Tarot reading in Chapter 2 a genuine reading?

The unabridged version of DEATH'S HEAD has people talking!

Can you give us an idea of what new material is in it??!

So, what's next from MK in 2004? Surprise us!

And what's the situation with Millivres right now?

SPECIAL SECTION, EARLY-MID 2005:

MEL ANSWERS A COLLECTION OF READERS' THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NARC UNIVERSE, ESPECALLY SCORPIO...

What exactly is an 'autochef'?

These guys sometimes smoke ... what are they smoking?

What language are they speaking?

What's life expectancy in this era?

Can you outline gender roles in this 'universe'?

What's the status of religion in Jarrat's and Stone's century?

Clear something up for us: how many guys *are* there in a Raven unit?!

When are we going to SEE the NARC riot armor?

References