Jackson Marsh joins us today to chat about a few different topics. He discusses pseudonyms, his writing process, and character naming…
It’s exciting when someone starts on a new journey. Jackson Marsh is here to share about his new series and talks a little about ‘cross-germination’ (and you thought you were done with science class) between novels. I am looking forward to picking up both of these! Also can I comment that these covers are absolutely lovey?
(I NEED Marmaduke Pantyboy’s story!)
Jackson Marsh is the pen name of author and screenplay writer James Collins who published 11 books before turning to what he had been hankering to write, MM romance novels. Jackson is a British writer who now lives in the Greek islands with his husband.
1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym (or do you already)?
Jackson Marsh is the pen name I use for my MM Romance and erotica writing. Why have a pen name? Well, it’s simple really. I already have a body of readers who follow the novels and travel books I write under my real name, James Collins. Many of these readers have come to me because of a blog I write as an expat living on a Greek island. My ‘mainstream’ books are not gay romance (though they often involve gay characters) and I didn’t want to confuse, or even shock, my James Collins readership.
2. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Both. I know that readers of MM Romance download or buy a book because the cover says ‘Gay romance!’ and the blurb promises them a heart-warming romance with perhaps some erotica too. So, the stories must fit the bill. But, having said that, I do try to make them original and not always the standard ‘boy meets boy’ story. That’s why ‘Other People’s Dreams’ is also a slow-burn thriller, and my ‘Mentor’ books have something else about them. ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge,’ for example, is also a thriller and draws on my mountaineering experience. I also like to inject humour if I can.
3. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Each of my novels stands on its own but, so far, works within the same niche. That’s the older/younger niche where a main character, usually 18 or 19, sets about his first love affair with a guiding older man. The age gap is important and interesting so in ‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’ the MC is 42 and the boys he is mentoring are 18 to 21 years old, and in ‘Barrenmoor’ the main pair are 19 and 36. Although two of my novels so far have titles beginning with ‘The Mentor of…’ they are separate stories and characters, but the overall niche is the same: an older man and a younger man, a sharing of differences and experiences, and each subtly mentoring the other to fulfilment.
What I am also toying with (and I’ve done it in ‘Wildhill Farm’) is bringing in aspects from my ‘mainstream’ novels. For example, in ‘Wildhill Farm’, one of the characters is reading one of my mainstream novels, because he comes from where that book is set. I have ideas to write more books in the future where there is what you might call cross-character-fertilisation. A character from one story appears with one from another story in a whole new story. Could be fun.
4. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
‘Don’t be afraid to tell another guy that you fancy him.’ Don’t be afraid to come out, I guess. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and, in my 20s, led pride marches and protests (when Pride was a political protest). Before then, and living in a rural backwater, coming out was hard if not impossible; it still is. But now I am older, I wonder how many missed opportunities there were for me to be with another boy who was also gay. I fancied all my male friends at school, I was simply after love from someone of the same sex. A few discovered this when things just happened but had I been more honest with them, I may have found what I was seeking earlier in life and been happier. So might have they. (I didn’t really come out until I was in my early 20s and fired from a job simply because I was gay – but that’s another story.)
5. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Paying a professional cover artist, for sure. I used to make my own covers, thinking, ‘I’ve got Photoshop, I can do that.’ The covers were, in the main, adequate but not dazzling. It’s not just the look though, it’s the understanding of what a good book cover does. I now use two designers, one for my ‘mainstream’ covers and one for my MM Romance covers. I found them both on a site called People Per Hour and, since changing some of my earlier covers to new ones designed by a proper designer, sales have picked up. I am also lucky in that I have an editor and layout artist who work for free because we are friends, so that saves money. But if you’re going to spend money on your writing, I’d say pay for covers, editing and definitely proofreading if you can.
6. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I’ll just have a look in my ‘bottom drawer’, a file I have on my PC (and in multiple backups!) where I have a range of ideas. These are sometimes just titles which later remind me of a story, or they are full outlines. Some are the first few chapters of an idea that melted from me after I began ‘pantsing’, starting from line one and seeing what came out, and some are sections written against an outline and never finished because another story got in the way. A quick count reveals: A gay thriller; a biography of my gay godfather from 1911 to 2000; a couple of horror novels; a Greek summer MM romance; a couple of screenplays (I also write them for a living); a revamp of the first novel I ever wrote and then lost, but I can still remember the story; a gay mystery romance; a book adaptation of a gay musical I wrote; and a new comedy satire for my mainstream ‘Miss P’ series.
The rule here is to write down ideas as they occur and keep them for when they are ready to be developed.
7. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
This depends. For my best-seller, ‘The Saddling’ (under my real name) I spent four years working on the book, developing a dialect and researching everything from the lore surrounding solstice rites in the UK to genealogy, to Kentish dialect. For ‘Wildhill Farm’ I simply found some images similar to what I imagined the setting and characters to be, and then wrote from the heart and memory. In others, I’ve researched as I go along – a quick Google to double-check things, or to buy a background book, and back to the typing.
Some ‘research’ is actually character development, so it’s not actually researching facts, but making them up to fit my own novel worlds and people.
8. How many hours a day do you write?
A perfect day for me is to write from seven in the morning, earlier in the summer months, to midday, an hour off, and then again in the afternoon. So, eight hours per day. Trouble is, I also write for other people, in order to earn a living, and so although I sometimes write 10,000 words per day, only 3,000 of them might be for me. That’s about four hours for others and four hours per day for me, seven days per week if I can – which, luckily, is most days.
9. How do you select the names of your characters?
I like to spend time thinking about the character before I name them and try and find something suitable. I mean, I wouldn’t call the male lead in an MM romance novel Marmaduke Pantyboy, I’d reserve that name for one of my satires. Solid, bold names work best for heroes, such as Cam, or John, whereas more ethereal names work better for more ethereal characters, such as Gabriel in ‘Wildhill Farm’, and down-to-earth names for earthy characters such as Kenny Cole, from the same story, or Tom Carey for the ‘Saddling’ hero. Surnames are important too as they can help a reader establish a character’s background and place of birth. I’m a UK writer and have researched family history and country history where names grew from locations or trades. The rule here is to be realistic.
Sometimes, though, I start with a name that’s easy to type. Gary is easier to type 500 times in a book than Nicholas or Raphael (also, my spelling is pants). You can always do a search and replace afterwards and change the name in the manuscript; a trick I use often. Having said that, I called my main characters in ‘Remotely’ Gary and Stag because Gary was gay and Stag was straight – the names come from what they are. GArY and STrAiGht. I also like to use slightly unusual names, so they stick in the mind. Hence I have characters in my romance novels called Camden and Logan and, elsewhere, Drover and Stavroula. Character names are important but don’t go over the top with them, unless you’re writing fantasy or satire.
10. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It varies. One of my mainstream novels took four years, but its sequel took two months, having the characters, places, research and feel already in place helps. My MM Romance novels take me about two months to write to a second draft stage and another month to edit and continually check. I tend to write the first draft and leave it for a month while working on something else, and then come back to it with fresh eyes; an important trick to learn as you pick up more typos and repetitions that way. ‘Other People’s Dreams’ was begun in 1996 and finally became what it now is ten years later. ‘Wildhill Farm’ took two months, but the story had been in my head for over a year. The main thing to remember is, ‘calm down!’ It’s great when you’ve ‘finished’ a novel, and you’re keen to get it out there, but it will benefit from being left alone a while and returned to later. As Hemmingway allegedly said, ‘The first draft of anything is always s**t.’ Not always, Mr Hemmingway, but nothing was ever hurt by being rewritten, cut, edited and rewritten again.
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jackson-Marsh/e/B077LDT5ZL/
There’s also an amazon.com author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jackson-Marsh/e/B077LDT5ZL/
Recent MM Romance novels links:
The Mentor of Wildhill Farm: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mentor-Wildhill-Farm-Jackson-Marsh-ebook/dp/B077Y67GDJ/
The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mentor-Barrenmoor-Ridge-Jackson-Marsh-ebook/dp/B078TFPQ89/
#marmadukepantyboy needs his story, clearly the savior of our modern times!