’Nathan Burgoine is the author of the novel Light, a Lambda Literary Award finalist . His second novel, Triad Blood, just came out this month and features a trio of supernatural characters first introduced in stories that have appeared in a range of anthologies over the years. Now they’re finally getting their own standalone book, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I’ve known ’Nathan since sometime in 2009 and often think of him as my anthology brother, since we’ve had stories appear in the same collections more times than I can count. And ever since I met him and his husband at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, they’ve been people I always look forward to catching up with. He’s a great writer, a super supportive reader, and generally one of the damn nicest human beings I know. (It should come as no surprise, therefore, when I tell you he’s Canadian.)
So you’re an avowed lover of the short story form and, what d’you know, here’s another novel! How is it for you to shift from short to long and back again?
If I had my druthers, I’d likely live in the world of short fiction (and maybe novellas), but the publishing world is what it is and I have to admit that every now and then there’s a story that won’t “fit” in the short story format that wants out of my noggin. Triad Blood was exactly that—it was a multiple-times failure at a short fiction piece that I finally clued in was too much to tell in a short story. Then it grew to a novella, and even then I had more I wanted to do with it, so… Novel.
How I shift is mostly a matter of timing. I work on the novel-in-progress on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and I work on short fiction pieces on Wednesdays and on the weekend (catch-as-catch can between time with my fella and his fluffy lordship). Novel writing doesn’t come naturally to me, so I find breaking it up with Wednesday back in my comfort zone helps a tonne.
Heading back to a short fiction piece always feels more comfortable, though, and nothing is as inspiring as that feeling when a call for submission comes up and an idea just explodes in the brain. Novels are slow processes, even when the turnaround is tight, and such a different animal all around. I think working on short fiction does help me be a leaner novel writer, but the two rarely compare.
This is your second novel (the first being the Lambda Literary finalist Light). How was the experience of writing this one different from writing the first?
I had no idea what I was doing when I was writing Light. I started at the end, then wrote the start, then the middle, then filled in gaps, realized I had massive continuity issues, panicked, rewrote, and wondered why I’d ever agreed to write a novel in the first place. My process wasn’t so much a process as it was a series of accidents forced into one whole. I was also working full time at a job that had an hour-plus commute (one way) and a terrible schedule while I wrote Light, so it was spread out over three years and done very much when I could, between moments of other stuff.
So, I learned from that. A lot. Triad Blood (and the next one I’m working on now, Triad Soul) are a lot more planned out. I’m still very loose with my plan and the order in which I write things, but there’s way more of a framework for these two than there was with Light. I’m also working very part time now, rather than a full-time gig, so writing gets to be what I’m doing as a priority the vast majority of the time. It’s amazing how many times I can have a thousand-plus word days when my day is built around writing, rather than writing being shoehorned in wherever it will fit.
Between having a plan and that lack of time management stress, writing Triad Blood was a dream.
Triad Blood centers around characters you’d already created and explored in several short stories. What’s the most surprising thing you discovered (about your writing, about your characters, however you want to interpret that) while working on this book?
I think the biggest thing was realizing how much I hadn’t already done. That sounds sort of silly, but I had a very concrete picture of the guys in my head, and I realized with four short fiction pieces already out there, I needed to make sure I didn’t start contradicting myself. So I sat down with the four stories and collected all the facts for each character and the world-building and realized I’d not put much in stone at all. The larger details, yes: the way the supernatural world was based on threes, some of the origin and interpretation of demons, and how magic worked—I was glad I went back and looked and organized those.
But beyond that? There wasn’t a tonne of stuff that “trapped” me. I still had a very wide range to work with. Going into the novel, though, I had that far much more on my mind: I didn’t want to set up too many “easy outs” for the characters in the sense of how Curtis’s magic worked, especially, so that if I did write more Triad stuff (which I am doing), readers won’t wonder why he doesn’t just do the same thing he did to solve the problem last time. That’s always a trap with anything fantastical or spec-fic: Once you’ve invented a power or an ability or a process, you need to consider how that could be used again later. Sort of like how the transporter in Star Trek needed to not work through particular minerals to make kidnapping plots function.
It was also really freeing. Luc, especially, is quite unexplored, and he has the most history of the three to unravel, and though I know it, it was fun to have him only drop hints here and there. He’s quite private in many ways, and he’s also aware that of the three of them, he’s the most realistic and responsible in the sense of how he believes their survival is best secured. Curtis is an optimist and young. Anders is self-involved and a walking id. So it’s often up to Luc to keep everyone on-track, and it was a lot of fun to write the three playing off each other with that in mind.
You’ve projected this as a trilogy, right? What can readers expect in the second and third books?
Yes, if everything goes well, Triad Blood will be followed by Triad Soul and then Triad Magic. Where Triad Blood is about the three trying to carve some security into their place in the supernatural world, in Triad Soul, you’ve got them a lot more settled and, if not welcomed, at least tolerated—and then something comes along that puts them in the rather unique position of being the only people without an agenda when bodies start to pile up. Putting them in the position of having to work for the people who’d previously been so antagonistic against them is interesting, and I’m playing with that quite a bit: They’re trying to solve a problem before it screws up everyone around them, and at the same time they’re realizing there’s a reason everyone wasn’t happy when they first formed their group.
Triad Magic is a bit more nebulous and still forming in my head, but the key plot thread involves the three realizing just what it is everyone was so afraid of when they created their unique bond, and there’s just no putting the genie back in the bottle for them.
You’re also working on another project that I’ve seen you mention on Twitter but not on your blog, a novel in stories revolving around a set of shops in Ottawa’s gay village. Tell me a little more about that.
Last NaNoWriMo I decided to work on short stories for the month instead of a novel, and I had great success. I wrote a Christmas novella themed around chosen family (something I always want to read at that time of year, but never quite find). Instead of a short story, it turned into a novella, which I wasn’t expecting, but having written one already (“In Memoriam”), I like the freedom of the length to explore more than you can usually explore with a short piece, and it wasn’t for a contract or any particular call, so I wasn’t trying to come under a particular word count limit. I’m happy with how it turned out, and need to figure out a next step there.
Then I wrote another short story that turned into a novella. It’s about a young man who works in an occult shop in his local gay village. He doesn’t believe in magic, not like his boss does (she’s a self-professed believer), but she’s adamant he has a gift. And that gift comes forth when he starts to crush out on a painter restoring the memorial mural across the street.
This was the start of my Village stories notion taking root. I wanted to explore a gay village with a series of short stories, but I’d envisioned them as a collection of short fiction, and it wasn’t working out that way.
I’d already written a piece set in the same fictionalized village’s chocolate shop. That actually found a welcome home in Matthew Bright’s Threesome. “Vanilla” was an erotic short, though, and this occult shop story wasn’t lending itself to being erotica. “A Little Village Magic,” was a romance with zero smut, and was much longer than a short fiction. Again, it turned into a novella.
The end result was that I decided to consider “A Little Village Magic” the start of a series, though “Vanilla” absolutely takes place in the same place. A secondary character introduced in “A Little Village Magic” (the owner of the tea shop) became the main character for the next story, “A Little Village Blend,” and while working on that story, I popped in a visit to a pet shop/pet rescue and introduced the character that will be in the third story, “A Little Village Hope.” And so on. They’re all novella length stories, and the idea is to link them up, have characters carry over in wee cameos, and spin a romantic (and slightly magical or slightly psychic) story each time with different members of this fictionalized version of Ottawa’s Village.
The first story is ready for beta reading. The second isn’t quite finished. The third is just notes and ideas and a few rough passages, and beyond that I’ve got characters at the back of my head for a vintage and consignment clothing shop, the art gallery (which has featured once already in passing), the coffee shop (mentioned often), and so on. There’s a part of me that would love to wrangle in other authors, too, and make this a shared world experience, once I’ve got a few pieces finished. I don’t know. I’d love to step into a shared world anthology project, and maybe this could be a stepping stone to get there. We’ll see.
The Village stories don’t have a contract, a home, or a plan. So right now they’re very much a fun project on the side.
In the acknowledgements for Light, you told your husband you were ready to get a dog. Obviously, that happened. Any promises in store following Triad Blood?
Ha! Writing the acknowledgements for Triad Blood was painful, because I had nothing to promise! Hopefully what I did say is good enough. I certainly had my illusions blown about acknowledgments with Light, though. I figured no one actually read them, and boy was that wrong. My poor husband was inundated with people telling him to grab a copy of Light and read the acknowledgements right now. He’d already done so, I’m happy to note, and yeah, it happened.
I’d like to think I’ve adapted to his fluffy lordship just fine.
You can find ’Nathan online at his website, nathanburgoine.com, as well as his blog. He’s also on Twitter and Facebook. (The aforementioned fluffy lordship, Coach, also has his own Twitter account, which is delightful. Also? Buying ’Nathan’s books means Coach gets peanut butter, so do the right thing, hey?)