Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Bill Kieffer – Bill Kieffer’s only admitted vice is being himself on the Internet (where he is a 6 foot tall – which Bill is convinced makes him very tall – anthropomorphic draft horse that types as Greyflank. He is ever-so grateful to his wife over 25 years for putting up with him and his unadmitted vices. His new coworkers at a virtual reality company totally grok that he’s a furry… but are still a little confused by the concept of a married, monogamous bisexual. Humans are funny.
Thanks so much, Bill, for joining me!
Bill is giving away a copy of his novel “The Goat” with this post – comment below for a chance to win.
J. Scott Coatsworth: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
Bill Kieffer: My genre is Furry.
Which sounds like kids stuff, because talking animals, right? But it’s actually more than that, it’s allegorical SF and Fantasy that allows me to explore privilege and transformation. I can talk about racism, sexism, religious fissures, ableism, and all sorts of important issues without stealing other people’s own voices.
I’m a white male and I don’t get out much… if I try to write a story about a black lesbian in the projects overlooking the wealth and the unattainable status of the Met Opera house… am I going to get it right?
Maybe, but probably not, despite having grown up poor, despite being a bisexual, despite learning a lot about opera late in life, I am likely to make a fatal flaw in my thought experiment, and the real versions of the people I imagine will be offended. I might end up doing them a disservice, despite my well-meaning aims… I learned that I need to let the people that know that life better than I tell that story.
With Furry, I can dissolve the things I might to say about that giant apartment complex on Amsterdam Ave behind the Met and Big Apple Circus… people literally feet away from the Best and the Whatever You Want to Call Big Apple Circus… this is everything that I love and hate about Manhattan, you turn the corner and you are in another world. I can concentrate on the conflict, the dichotomy, the tease, the micro-aggressions, and the social commentary of it all by applying an SF/Fantasy filter to it all.
If I write about a female Gecko I’m on a level playing field. I can build the world from scratch and concentrate on the issues I know we’ll enough to talk about and imply the rest. If I do it right, the reader may infer other issues they are aware of and build their own world while reading.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
BK: OMG, yes. I am egotistical enough to enjoy reading anything with my name on it. So far, because I am largely a niche writer, my reviews have been positive. Yes, even when The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim made people sick, I rejoiced in it. Because you don’t spend 40K words of torment looking to make someone happy.
I did get a negative review on Goodreads.
And I loved it.
What made me love it, – beyond just seeing my name in print is, that is – is that she was right. And that parts that she did not like were actually selling points for my type of reader. “It said it was a horror novel, but it was more like a creepy erotic book in the fantasy genre. ” Yes, it is. Thank you.
What did hurt, was when the third person pointed out the grammar and spelling errors. In my first drafts, Frank often took turns at poetry and crassness, purposely spelling things incorrectly. That made the book so uneven so I had to fix all that. Frank loathes his own intelligence but at the same time, wants to look good, so his final narrative was supposed to be close to perfect.
So, when the first year was up and my publisher asked if I wanted to renew, I said yes, please. But I’m going to need another proof read, because mistakes are still in the book and proof reading my own works makes me cry.
Thanks to the magic of On-Demand-Publishing, The Goat should be bullet proof now. At least, no one has complained in the last few months about it.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
BK: Mostly, my short stories spring from an idea, although I often return to my characters when inspiration strikes.
The Goat was a surprising exception. My inspiration for Glenn had discovered himself on the Internet’s darker alleys, so I actually wrote a few embarrassing stories, as well as even more embarrassing drawings about him, before he realized that he needed to put effort into building himself that perfect world in, you know, the real world. So, I had to let him go… because that was what was best for him… and I knew I was doing the right thing.
BUT… my typing fingers… they might have been a little angry and feeling a little abandoned… so they took Glenn down darker alleys than the inspiration would have explored in his efforts to destroy his own humanity.
Brooklyn Blackie, from Cold Blood: Fatal Fables started with an idea to create a Furry Noir story that was unique, yet familiar. I had the plot in my head a long time, but I didn’t have a character for it, so I built him when I needed it.
One of the stories from Cold Blood, “Unbalanced Scales,” began with a fellow writing saying that he wanted see a dragon blinged out like a rock star. Saint George (aka Kudzu) sprang fully realized from my head and I built the story around him.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
BK: I try to make all my heroes bisexual or polysexual.
I only make my MCs straight when it’s a plot point. 😉 I’d heard the nonsense that characters should only be gay or POC if that was a plot point for 40 years. So screw that. I grew up in the 70’s when your hangups were your problem.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
BK: In my latest, Cold Blood: Fatal Fables, I wanted to talk about privilege and maybe remind the younger generation that being queer was a much harder thing way back then. Being one of the “lesser” races was worse the farther back I go. I cross several decades, the 20’s, the 40’s, and the 80’s.
And I wanted people to maybe see a bit of themselves in Brooklyn Blackie, who is damaged and maybe cursed. I know there’s a lot of me in there.
I think I managed that.
But, I swear to all that I hold holy, that if I had known Trump was going to be president… If I knew he’d be this white supremest fascist wanna-be dictator, I’d have rewritten these terrible set pieces for 2025.
Because every day, I feel like we are now heading in that direction. (sorry to get political, but… crap).
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
BK: I had a werewolf assigned to it.
Viergacht was my cover artist for The Goat and I wanted a hyper-realistic cover for Cold Blood: Fatal Fables. A long time ago, Viergacht and I were in the same mailing list for transformation stories. I adored his stuff, and I promised myself he’d be one the cover of one of my comic books one day.
Well, I never made it back to comics, but I am quite happy to have found him after several name changes and a move to South Africa. He’s so different from most of the popular furry artists (because he’s a werewolf and not a furry, but that’s a story for another day). And because we have that history, I feel like he knows what I want.
The design process was stalled due V having a medical issue, but my wonderful publisher was patient. You don’t hire a werewolf and expect the creative process to be less than messy, right? Besides, totally worth the wait.
I described two of the characters to Jay Stoat at Jaffa. Brooklyn Blackie and Saint George. I think either Jay chose one of them or gave V both. I was less involved with the process for this cover than for The Goat’s cover, but then they were different publishers. I’m quite pleased how they both turned out.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
BK: I’m a pantser, except for the mystery stories. I write loose outlines for those because it’s too easy to just pull stuff out of your ass that makes your characters seem either psychic or lucky. If you saw my rough drafts you’d see how often I hit my word limit and then try to wrap it all up in a few words.
In the case of Cold Blood, each of the six stories was written for a target market. So each had a loose theme as an inspiration. Only two of the stories were accepted by the markets I aimed for. Half of the remainder were either rejected or I went over the deadline by way too much. Two of them, I didn’t finish by deadline.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
BK: Heh… I’ve never finished a book I set out to write.
The Goat started out as a serial for a very select mailing list of TF fans and when I was finished, I put it away for a decade. I think I wrote it in two months, but I’d always intended to go back and add other characters. When I dug it out, everyone I showed it told me not to add other characters… that it was fine the way it was.
So, I sent it to Weasel, not really believing it was ready, that it was the pushing the envelope thing he was looking for. I was FIRMLY convinced that it would be rejected, but if was lucky, I might get a few good tips.
Oh my stars and garters, I got an acceptance letter four days later.
I sent Cold Blood out to Jaffa, because I had these stories just sitting here and his reading period just happened to open when I decided that I’d might want to bundle them together. I’d written them over a 12 months period. Maybe 16 months?
Thankfully, he took several months to send me an acceptance letter or there would be no living with me.
Also, I wrote a short story between the acceptance and the finalization of the cover. We threw it in there for good measure.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
BK: In my best Dean voice, “You do know I write talking animals, right?”
But, I consider my characters humans (or at least sentient creatures) and any line-up between me and them would be the same as Spock’s parents getting together, right?
So… Kill: Frank, the narrator from The Goat. Sure, he’s one of the few humans I’ve written, but honestly, I think he’s sorta the least human thing I may have ever created. If I found myself in the same world as him, I’d have to kill him because I know what he is exactly. One less gay-bashing, self-loathing asshole the world has to deal with. Also, I want to steal his car.
Fuck: Glenn from The Goat. He’s mostly human and he’s got handles built into his head. That’s all sorts of convenient, right? Yes, I know he’s flawed and he has a string of people mad at him for stealing all sorts of magic (spoiler? A little), but I designed him largely after someone I loved in my own way.
Marry: Well, I am married and I don’t know how anyone could be better for me, because she keeps surprising me with all the ways she’s good for me. But if I was a Mary Jane version of myself in some fictional world, I’d probably marry Brooklyn Blackie from Cold Blood: Fatal Fables. In the 40’s, there’s no recognized type of healthy bisexual , and S&M meant something much different than the BDSM of today. I could have so much fun teaching him things… although we both have our own mental health issues.
And he’s sorta a werewolf. Except, he’s a full time furbag, so shedding would be an issue.
JSC: What are you working on now?
BK: I am working on a romance between a young Tonkinese male and his middle aged lover who happens to be a cold blooded reptile.
Before you get too distracted, Tonkinese isn’t a nationality, it’s a breed of cat.
And when I say, cold blooded reptile, I mean exactly that.
You see, Jinx is a Cat and Cecil is an Alligator and they both live in the allegorical universe I call Aesop’s World. The novel isn’t quite named yet, but I think it might be Warm Hearts to balance out the more recent Cold Blood. Although the setting is staying dark, (the Great Beast is in the White House, Cold Lives Matter is shutting down cities, and immigrants are having their eggs stolen), these two are trying to cross the gaps of privilege, generations, and outright ignorance that fall between them.
I’ve been practicing writing their relationship with two stories that will be out later this year. One is a kinky adult story that will be appearing in Fang 9 and the other is a tale (or tail, in the furry circles) of growth that will be appearing in Roar 9.
And now for Bill’s new book: Cold Blood:
It’s a dark world where love and redemption have a cost that can only be measured in blood and violence. It’s just like your own Earth, except darker… furrier… scalier. There are no humans. If there were ever humans, they are just the myths now of strange religions and cultures.
The place to be is New Amsterdam, where its five boroughs form a familiar cityscape in the Independent and United States of America. Every race, every species co-mingle here with a tolerant surface of live and let live. At least, until you cross the wrong person. Rubbing someone’s fur the wrong way might get you killed.
In these six stories, you’ll explore different stories of love and violence across different decades of alternate furry history.
Dr. Ice tuned the gimmick on Mimic’s chest, quick and easy. Mimic stood stiffly, trouper that he was, with his arms out straight and his fingers twitching with embarrassment.
Then Dr. Ice just held him for a moment from behind. He ran his hands up the Turtle’s plastron from below the vent, then up and around the holes and protrusions that marked his orange-brown front. There were some giggles as Mimic looked victimized. He moved his head awkwardly, and Dr. Ice blew on his neck. The living beatbox stiffened, eyes wide, at the unexpected sensation. “I’m going to play you now,” Dr. Ice said in a velvet whisper and the Turtle’s eyes went wider still.
He didn’t exactly look terrified.
Kudzu counted down, 3-2-1… Dr. Ice led the way, playing “From Brooklyn to The Bayou” as he remembered it. Mimic surrendered to Dr. Ice, straightening and relaxing as the Bearded Dragon directed.
Mimic squirmed within the green and white embrace. He pressed a hand below his vent as the sensation came close to overwhelming him. Then, finally, he could stand it no more. He looked up at the ceiling and opened his beak. Instead of a scream, he released a series of shrill wheezing sounds and then the screech of a turn-table scratch.
As Dr. Ice continued to pluck at him, producing sensations and music directly into his brain, Mimic sung out a living percussion beat of harmony.
Heartland had pushed the stool away from the piano and spread his legs in a catcher’s stance almost two feet from the keyboard. His body bent forward in an arc until the chin of his toothy mouth rested on the baby grand. His arms were too short to play it any other way. Then he froze with a Gator’s stone, hard, unblinking stillness.
Dr. Ice looked cool and steady while Mimic trembled with excitement. Dr. Ice reached forward and slapped his palms on the Turtles chest like he was playing bongo drums. Mimic sucked in a breath before spitting out bongo noises.
Then Jonny Heartland threw in the piano, wild and kinetic, in synch with Dr. Ice and Mimic but with a slight counterpoint that suggested this piece was not at all tamed. From the tip of his thick serrated tail to the end of his flat snout, the Alligator was in motion, swaying in time to the music.
Jaws dropped on the other side of the glass.
The ‘Gator was not done with his surprises yet. When he opened his mouth to sing, it wasn’t the smooth, longing, velvet voice of his younger days. A strong, steady, but harsh voice of bitterness escaped his body, turning the love song sour. He didn’t sing in Aenglish, but in the noble, slang-free Xeno-Vox of his youth. Click Clack, they’d called it in the Age of Jazz.
And when the song called for Brooklyn, he sang out Harlem, instead.
The song ended at 3 minutes and 14 seconds. Mimic kept saying, “Oh my stars, oh my stars,” and he had to cover his crotch to keep from embarrassing himself. Dr. Ice patted the Turtle’s head. Together, they then helped Heartland outside to cool off.
Bill Kieffer’s only admitted vice is being himself on the Internet (where he is a 6 foot tall – which Bill is convinced makes him verytall – anthropomorphic draft horse that types as Greyflank. He is ever-so grateful to his wife over 25 years for putting up with him and his unadmitted vices. His new coworkers at a virtual reality company totally grok that he’s a furry… but are still a little confused by the concept of a married, monogamous bisexual. Humans are funny.
He is a member of the Furry Writers Guild, a social media volunteer for the NJ LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and a columnist for Underground Book Reviews. Past fiction credits include the Cóyotl Award winning The Goat: Building The Perfect Victim from Red Ferret Press. More recent publications include short stories in Roar 8, Bleak Horizons, Seven Deadly Sins: Furry Confessions, and In Flux.