Born in the United States and now a resident of Scotland, Ry Herman has been writing for the majority of his life. Herman’s professional experiences include being a submissions editor, theatre technician, acting, directing, and publishing novels. Herman’s recent novels are Love Bites and Bleeding Hearts, a pair of paranormal queer romances. Wanting to learn more about Herman’s career, his approach to writing, and his thoughts on the future of Queer Fiction, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Ry Herman: I’m very much a second-generation fan of science fiction and fantasy. My parents read me Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander as bedtime stories, and later I spent a lot of time as a child raiding my parents’ bookcases for anything that looked interesting. Some favorites that I found there were Ursula K. LeGuin, Patricia McKillip, Roger Zelazny, and Robin McKinley.
I don’t do as much rereading as I used to – there are so many new books I’m interested in that I can’t keep up as it is – but when I do pick out something to revisit, those authors tend to be high on the list. Out of them all, Robin McKinley probably had the biggest influence on my own novels, Love Bites and Bleeding Hearts; her book Sunshine would get my vote as the best vampire novel of all time. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read it. More than three.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a writer? Was there a moment this goal crystalized for you?
Herman: I think I declared my intention to be a writer when I was six – my earliest attempts, I believe, were the illustrated manuscripts “How To Be A Detecativ” and “Why Do Plats Grow”. But it didn’t really crystalize for me until I wrote a play in my early teens. It was about living chess pieces and it was, in all honesty, terrible. But it’s the one which proved to me that if I kept at it long enough, I could write a story which had a beginning, middle, and end. (“How To Be A Detecativ” didn’t have much of a plot to speak of.)
Yanes: Much of the promotional materials about you and your books describe your novels as queer fiction. With so many LGBTQ characters appearing mainstream fiction, as well as many mainstream authors being LGBTQ, how do you see queer fiction as different? On this note, do you see this category remaining relevant in the future?
Herman: I’ve found it very exciting how LGBTQ works have moved from the fringes to the mainstream over the past decade or so. In the SFF genre at least, finding a work with queer characters in the 1990s was like stumbling on a unicorn, and in the early 2000s those books were still mostly the realm of small indie presses.
To me, queer fiction is different and important because it tells stories from a minority viewpoint. It brings some readers in contact with characters they can see themselves in – and queer fiction can be particularly crucial for that, because sometimes it can be the only point of contact. Reading LGBTQ fiction was a major part of my own process of self-realization and coming out. For other readers, queer fiction can provide exposure to a point of view, or a set of social circumstances, they might not have encountered before.
I don’t think queer fiction will disappear as a category, but I suspect that as more queer stories enter the mainstream, the classification may get applied in a different way. Mainstream stories which happen to have queer characters, but don’t specifically focus on queer identity or concerns, will gradually migrate from “queer fiction” to “fiction” – it’s already starting to happen now. And I think that would be a good thing, in the long run. It would signal that more and more people have stopped regarding queer characters as an incomprehensible “other”.
Yanes: Magic can be a difficult include in a story. So, when developing your narratives what rules do you set up so that magic isn’t a narrative crutch?
Herman: This is something I think about a great deal, because I like to play with the different approaches to magic that have evolved within the fantasy genre. Some stories treat magic with essentially scientific logic – if you mix certain ingredients together in a potion, or recite the proper words in the correct order, then it will have the same effect every single time. In other stories, magic works more along the lines of dream logic. It’s something that transforms and transfigures according to the needs of the narrative, without obeying coherent rules.
Since part of Bleeding Hearts is an examination of those two ways of viewing the world, I used both in the story. Vampires, for example, had powers that were defined by strict and immutable rules, but witch magic was more intuitive and inexplicable.
As it turns out, the two approaches also required different techniques to keep them from becoming narrative crutches or deus ex machinas. For “scientific” magic, I found that the key was to impose limitations – no character with that kind of magic can have infinite power, and all of their abilities must have corresponding weaknesses. But that doesn’t work for “dream” magic, because imposing limits is a form of imposing rules. So the solution had to be more narrative in nature: nothing could be achieved by those means within the story unless it was somehow earned by the character first. If you have to go through a near-death experience to win your magical victory, then it doesn’t feel like it was pulled out of nowhere, even if the result is unfettered by logical constraints.
Yanes: Your recent novel is Bleeding Hearts. What was the inspiration for this story?
Herman: Bleeding Hearts is a sequel that I never intended to write, and was advised against writing.
My first book, Love Bites, was conceived as a stand-alone romance novel. But while it had a happy ending, there were some lingering problems in the characters’ lives that remained unsolved, and had the potential to unravel everything. Eventually, I became desperate to know what happened to them a year later. I wanted to make sure they came out all right.
I started writing Bleeding Hearts before Love Bites was accepted for publication, and more than one person told me that wasn’t a great idea. Why write a sequel to a novel that might never be published in the first place? Why not work on something else, and write a sequel if Love Bites ever gets picked up? But the story kept demanding that I write it until I gave in. Now they’re both out in the world, so I’m glad it wouldn’t leave me alone.
Yanes: As you were developing Bleeding Hearts, was there a character that took on a life of their own?
Herman: As you might have guessed from my previous answer, both my books and my characters sometimes tug me along in the direction they want to go, rather than anything I consciously choose. The character whose lead I followed the most in this one, though, was Chloë. Bleeding Hearts is to a large extent her story, just as Love Bites was primarily Angela’s story. And Chloë had opinions on how she wanted her story to be told. Apparently, that involved her nearly freezing to death and sacrificing her underwear to a unicorn. Chloë may be a bit odd.
Yanes: Angela and Chloë are fantastic characters. Are they based on people in your life? Moreover, what steps did you take to develop them so that they could grow but still feel narratively consistent?
Herman: It would be difficult for me to argue that Chloë the writer and Angela the astrophysicist aren’t drawn from life when I’m a writer married to an astrophysicist. In fact, parts of Love Bites, the first book, are about as autobiographical as you can get when the central conflict is that one of the characters is a vampire.
That being said, the characters also differ in many ways from anyone in the real world, and those differences only increased as they had experiences I never had, and grew in their own ways. There are still aspects of Bleeding Hearts which I took from my own life, but in terms of overall plot it ventured pretty far afield from anything that ever happened to me – at least, I don’t recall any desperate road trips to save my relationship, with or without a werewolf in the passenger seat. Those departures from life events were included very deliberately; I wanted the characters to be able to grow and change, so I put them in situations where I couldn’t keep them locked into what I already knew about them.
The less a character’s history matched my own, the less I could ask, “What would I do in this situation?” But when the question became, “What would this character do in this situation?”, I was still able to answer. Over many years of writing and rewriting Angela and Chloë, they’ve come to feel something like close friends of mine. Although as I’ve said, sometimes they had their own opinions about how things should go.
Yanes: Bleeding Hearts includes various monsters. Which classic monster do you wish you could have included?
Herman: All of them! Zombies, mermaids, fairies, and demons are all urban fantasy standards I’d love to get around to sometime, but honestly my love of supernatural beings and monsters knows no bounds. I’ll dig up any nightmares from the past I can find. Especially if I can make them the protagonists.
Yanes: When people finish reaching Bleeding Hearts, what do you hope they take away from it?
That trust is the bedrock of any relationship, that life has room for both logic and magic, and that mind-controlling vampires are scary as shit.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Herman: I just finished a first draft of a book based on one of the odder fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm – The Twelve Huntsmen. All kinds of inexplicable things happen in the original story, to the point that it barely makes sense. So I read it and thought, I bet I can come up with a fun explanation for what was going on here. Like most of my writing, it’s funny until it’s serious and serious until it’s funny. And very queer.