It's Monday again!
That means we have another interview up, and today we have a treat: an interview with an author team!
Dani Hermit & Curtis Star (Hermit & Star) are a pair of married writers who have spent the last 20+ years together, writing and laughing and generally being disgustingly cute. They specialize in dark Yaoi & MM romances, but occasionally dip their toes into sweeter tales.
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter handle - @hermitstarbooks
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
CS - That's a hard one for me, as it happened slowly over time. But Dani has a great answer for this.
DH - Yeah. I have this moment just ingrained in my mind. I was maybe 11? 12? Old enough to go to the public library on my own. I'm standing in the middle of the fiction section, overwhelmed by how many books there were and trying to figure out where I wanted to start looking today. I have this realization as I'm looking at the rows of author names. People wrote these books. Like real people created all these stories. And I thought "well, damn. I am going to do that too! I'm going to write books!"
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
CS - From everywhere. We read and watch everything we can make time for, really just flooding our systems with stories. We also have this weird thing for reality TV. Watching real people reacting to other real people is a fascinating character study.
DH - Sometimes, we draw inspiration from things we've already written, taking characters we love and dropping them into new situations. Take our omegaverse series, The Black Devil. Curtis started writing that as a fun little spin-off of the superhero series (Burn Outs) we had just finished writing. In Burn Outs, the character Dark Mirror dreams of being a novelist and has been working on this bizarre detective novel about a black cat for most of his adult life. So Curtis decides, just for fun, he's going to write Dark Mirror's book as this cute little one-off that maybe we'll give away to our newsletter peeps or something.
DH - Long story short, he creates this amazing world using Dark Mirror's idea of the other characters from Burn Outs as the basis for the Black Devil characters. Sort of like when you're a young writer, in middle or high school, and you write all your friends and celebrity crushes into a story. I loved the world and ended up writing this little porny fic about it. Curtis then recruited me to help write it and... well, that one-off funsies story is now a 7 book series beloved on the serial sites we've put it on.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
DH - I write a solid 30 or so hours a week and do like double that in behind the scenes stuff like editing and promotion. But when I'm not doing that, I'm usually being cute with Curtis. We watch a lot of stuff together, but on my own, I crochet little monsters and blankets.
CS - And I spend my non-writing time drawing and recuperating from writing by absorbing my favorite stories - books and movies, TV shows and anime. I can't get enough of good stories.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
CS - Together, we've written around 30 books, give or take. More if we're counting stuff we never finished or fanfics. Most of that will never, ever see the light of day. They were our learning years. I think that my fave we've done to date is our Burn Outs series, but that's because it's the one where we really found our feet and it's the first series we wrote all the way through to the end.
DH - I've done about a half dozen books on my own and abandoned like 50 or more starts. It's easier for me to work with Curtis than on my own. I am in the process of releasing my first completed solo project, so that's exciting and terrifying. But the fave thing I've worked on so far has been Ghost House. I loved writing the trainwreck that was Jacob, and we are in the process of reviving that story as a serial story under the name RE: Possessed. I'm pleased to say that I still love writing those characters, maybe even more than the first time.
What is the first book that made you cry?
DH - I was in 2nd grade and found this book in the school library about a tree that was turned into a telephone pole. It was horrible because they cut down the tree and his tree girlfriend. But they didn't cut away all the tree's roots so when they planted him as a telephone pole, he began to grow as a tree again, but he was alone. All his bird friends and the tree he was in love with were gone. Then one day, the pole next to him started growing leaves and it turns out, it was his girlfriend tree! I cried so hard everytime I read that book. I checked it out like every other time I went to the library. I was obsessed!
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
CS - Well, Curtis Star certainly isn't my real name, LOL! I am trans, so that played a big part in picking my writing name. When I started my career, I wasn't out yet, but I knew that the name I'd been legally given just... wasn't quite right. I wanted something that reflected who I was becoming, even if I wasn't sure who that was yet.
DH - And Dani Hermit is only half a pseudonym but I really didn't want to have my books found by people who used to know me. At least, not easily. I was bullied mercilessly for years and feared that those bullies might crawl out of the woodwork. I'd seen a few writers I knew dealing with horrible, damaging reviews from people they knew personally and feared that would be me. So I used a shortened form of my first name (which I love being called Dani, it's so me) and a pseudonym for my last name.
CS - We did talk about using a pseudonym for our team writing, some combo of our names so that there was only one author name on the books, but we both have our own solo projects that would likely appeal to the same audiences as our team stuff. And we really wanted to make sure that people knew we were a team, so we used both our pen names for the books.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
CS - We don't really do well with stand alone books. We seem to thrive with a series that has an over-reaching storyline and the books bleed one into the next. Like they are episodes on Netflix or something. We have a few books on the back burner that might be stand alones, and we are working on some stand alone stories that are part of the worlds we've created in our series. On my own, I generally have the same style, long running stories that span multiple books.
DH - When I'm writing on my own, I seem to gravitate toward series of books that are self-contained stories but that are all connected. I'm still feeling that out because I haven't done much in the way of completing books on my own yet.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
CS - This is a tough one to answer, but when we started writing we were babies, barely in our 20s. Everything felt like it needed to be "different" and "original". What it ended up being was a mess.
DH - Yeah, this is something we've had to learn over time. Our work has evolved into writing what we want but understanding that the reason we want to write these tropes and subgenres of gay romance is because we LOVE those things and as readers ourselves, we expect the same things from them as our audiences. So we're putting interesting spins on our fave tropes but essentially we've learned that we like our stories better when they met reader expectations.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
CS - Can I say both? Because the more I write, the more I want to write. But at the same time, digging into these worlds and the minds and hearts of our characters can be draining. We often write a couple thousand words then take a nap before we pick up with the rest of our goals for the day.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
DH - As often as it is realistically possible, we write a chapter first thing in the morning. Every day if we can. Getting the words out of our heads first thing before the day gets to us guarantees that we don't fall behind on our writing goals. The other stuff - editing, promotion, cover design, all that messy behind-the-scenes stuff - those things are easier to get started on if it's been a hard day. We both need a clear head, uncluttered by real life, to dig into our writing with any kind of confidence.
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
DH - Write down everything. Every bonkers idea, every plot bunny, every character profile, even if none of it connects to anything yet. Keep a notebook or a file on your phone or a shoebox full of napkins. Whatever works but collect those ideas. And don't discredit your work when you write.
DH - Whether you're doing Sonic the Hedgehog fan fics or writing epic fantasy novels about your Lord of the Rings OC or diving into completely original cozy mysteries, don't act like what you're doing isn't important. Every word you create teaches you something about your writing process, and hones your skill.
CS - Dani's right. You need to treat yourself like an athlete. The more you write, the better you get. Even if the first things you create will never be seen by anyone but you and your most trusted friends (and maybe not even them). No one expects someone to run a marathon without training beforehand. And your first marathon will be awful. But your 50th? Your 100th? Lord knows, we wrote some messy stuff. Even some of our first published works were nightmarish. But the newest things? Fantastic. And I'm confident that our next thing will be even better.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
CS - oh no. Here we go.
DH - I'll keep this brief, but this is my biggest pet peeve. VANITY PUBLISHERS. There's a LOT to learn when you are first getting started, but the number one thing you need to know is that money flows TO the author from the publisher. You do not pay for them to publish you. Now, there's a ton of expenses when you are self-pubbing. Covers, editing, advertising, lots of other things. That's the normal cost of being an author. But there is no legit publisher that will ask you for money to publish your book. Even if they offer various services, if you do a little bit of legwork, you can find the same things (sometimes better) for less than they are charging you.
And don't be fooled by these companies who are calling themselves "hybrid publishers" because that's just a word they picked up on to snag in newbies who don't know better. When you see authors talking about being hybrid, they mean they are traditionally published through a publishing house and they self-publish some of their work as well.
CS - Done?
DH- Yes. Wait..... No, I'm done.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
DH - I can get weird about not knowing what I'm in the mood for. I've discovered serial apps, so I can browse around through a lot of stories and check out the first chapters for free to see what I'm feeling. It helps with that panic feeling of "oh no, what now?" when I finish a book.
CS - This doesn't happen for me often, but when it does it's usually because I'm writing something and I don't like to read the same tropes I'm writing. It's a weird thing I have about stealing other people's ideas, or at least being accused of it. But when I get in a mood for a certain genre or trope that happens to be what we're working on, it makes it hard to pick something to read.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
DH - Sooooo..... Okay, we spent years being weirded out by the mpreg (male pregnancy) subgenre of gay romances. It started in fanfictions and then there were all these books. And while we didn't dislike any author in particular, we were very much "ew what the hell" about the whole thing. But then, I don't know, we grew up? Matured or something? Because I kept seeing this ad for a Wendy Rathbone book and it sounded so good. Like exactly something I'd like but it was mpreg. This one day I was in a mood and book 1 of her Misfit Omegas series was on sale for 99 cents and... I just one clicked and started reading.
I'd burned through every book in the series that was available by the end of the week and was eagerly waiting for the new one to come out. I started reading mpreg fanfics and books, anything that had tropes I liked in other gay romances. Now, we're writing in that sub-genre with our series The Black Devil and there's talk of more mpreg series coming in the future.
CS - Don't let Dani forget to tell you that they're working on a couple mpreg stories on their own as well. Alpha in Chains is the start of a series and is right now available on the serial apps and will probably be collected into an ebook around the first of the year.
What do you have coming next?
CS - We're going to be finishing up the Black Devil, the writing at least, any day now. We're planning out the next couple books in our romcom Monarch Springs series. Our big team project will be the reimagining of our previously released series Ghost House. We're rewriting it from scratch to give those characters the story they deserve and will be putting it out under the title RE: Possessed. And there's always a few more new projects in discussion.
DH - Curtis is working on his solo dystopian horror series and I've got the rest of my Alpha in Chains series to write. After that, who knows? We are always kicking around new ideas and trying to decide if they are going to be something we work on together or on our own. That's always a hard choice because we love writing together. Sometimes a story is entirely contained in one of our minds and we want to tell each other those stories more than we want to share in the adventure of writing them.
Excerpt from The Black Devil Book 1: Infernal Affurs
Black-furs like Shadwell were about as far from Calicoes in the social pecking order as no-furs were from toms. His jewel green eyes and thick soot-colored coat marked him as a Cursed One. Which, while still being better than being born a no-fur, was not the easiest of lives. Not that Shadwell was going to ask for pity for how he’d been born.
He’d always been clever and was born with a knack for reading auras, allowing him to see the motives of most toms. What had started when he was young as a hustle to keep himself fed had become a real career with real clients who paid well for his less-than-legal talents. It also allowed him to have an office that doubled as an apartment and featured a gorgeous antique stained glass lamp that he’d gotten cheap because it had never worked. Like every other feline Elementalist, Shadwell enjoyed shiny things. Unlike most of them, Shadwell often got himself into trouble because he could become fixated and obsessed with shiny things.
He couldn’t afford many of those these days as his ability to attract clients was uncertain at best. Keeping his apartment office in the City took most of his coin. The office didn’t need much anyway. It was a place to keep a few precious treasures and a couch to crash on. Most of his clients preferred to meet in clandestine alleys and bars so they weren't actually seen going into the Infernal Affurs office. Shadwell’s best friend Jinx swore it was because of the awful pun in the name, but it had to be the reputation that Shadwell had on the streets.
Even with a solid success rate and reasonable prices, you blow up one small parking lot by accidentally opening a demonic gate and you are suddenly a pariah.
Oh, they’ll still pay for your services, but they’d prefer it not to get out that they did. Which made word of mouth a hard sales tactic.
Tonight, like most nights, Shadwell was meeting someone Jinx had set him up with. Thank the gods for Jinx. The Orangelo owned a barely-this-side-of-legal speakeasy in the heart of the City. In exchange for keeping him in rich clients, Shadwell kept the speakeasy cloaked in a shadow spell so it stayed off the radars of the authorities that might like to break up the illegal gambling and smuggling that Jinx allowed to happen in the back rooms.
The whole demon gate incident had also had earned the Black-fur the street name of Hades. His proper name was such a pretentious mouthful and the moniker suited his line of work. Hades didn’t just work the underground, he basically ran it as far as the uptown toms were concerned. He investigated the stomach-turning bad things that toms did to each other. For a price. Needed to figure out who had cursed you? Hades did that for a price. Need to find some dirt on a rival business or break up an illegal gambling circle? Hades did that too, for a price.
If he were completely honest, there was very little that Hades wouldn’t do for the right amount of money.