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, Jeff Baker – Jeff Baker, who also writes as Mike Mayak, has been most recently published in Queer Sci-Fi’s “Flight,” and issue 21 of “Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.” He posts flash fiction weekly on his blog at http:authorjeffbaker.com and writes a monthly column for Queer Sci-Fi. He graduated from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas where he still lives with his husband, Darryl. His Facebook page is at Jeff Baker, Author.
Thanks so much, Jeff, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Jeff Baker: Back in sixth grade we had to do a paper on ecology (this was the early seventies) and Mr. Leason told us to “be creative.” So I did a sequel to “A Christmas Carol,” with Marley’s Ghost haunting Scrooge about all the trash around his place. My teachers seemed to think I had a knack for it, and I wrote a lot as a kid, mainly takeoffs on comic books and TV shows. I didn’t start trying fiction writing until about twenty-five years ago.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JB: I write a lot of urban fantasy/sci-fi, the kind where the weird stuff could be happening down the street or in the office next to yours. The sort of thing that would have run in the legendary “Unknown Magazine” back in the ‘40’s. Some of my stuff is LGBT-themed, some isn’t. And when in doubt, I go for the laugh, even if it’s scary. If I was to write a story set in a star-spanning empire, I’d be writing about the guys working on a loading dock of the spaceport!
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JB: Depends on what you mean by “published.” I had two (!) short-shorts in an anthology about 17 years ago. And I had a horror story read over local radio on Halloween a year or so later—that was fun! The latter was called “The Pilfergeist,” and was an M.R. James-influenced horror story.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
JB: I write out a half-assed synopsis/outline (I all but failed outline writing in college!) which I sometimes pay attention to. If I’m home, I pace a lot, sometimes on my front porch. (My neighbor once offered me one of his porch chairs after seeing me do that a lot!) But I write whenever I can. I keep a notebook in my truck on my job as a delivery driver so I can write when I’m waiting for customers to show up or on my lunch break. That way, I can get maybe five, six pages on a good week; it adds up!
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
JB: I probably read too much as a child! I read a lot of comic books and I practically lived at the library. My parents are both readers and they unconsciously followed Dr. Seuss’ admonition to “fill your house with books.”
JSC: What’s your greatest weakness as a writer?
JB: I can be lazy and unmotivated. I probably wasted a lot of time in the 1990’s starting stories I never knuckled down and finished.
JSC: What fictional spec-fic character would you like to spend the evening with and why?
JB: Probably none of them, these people are dangerous! Anyway, I’m around my own characters in my head all the time!
JSC: What kind of character or topic have you been dying to try to write but you’ve never worked up the courage?
JB: Rod Serling used fiction to address issues of his time and he has always been one of my literary heroes. I’d love to write something that makes a statement about some aspect/problem of contemporary society. Not that I’m complaining about writing comedic fluff, I like comedic fluff!
JSC: If you could sit down with one author or writer living or dead, who would you choose and what would you ask them?
JB: Probably Robert Arthur, a near-forgotten pulp and radio writer (he co-created “The Mysterious Traveler”) who wrote a lot of short-stories (like “The Haunted Trailer”) which were reprinted in Y.A. anthologies when I was a kid. He was a pretty big inspiration on what I write and I’d love to just shoot the breeze with him.
JSC: What is the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of research?
JB: For a prison story, I tried smoking a cigarette in handcuffs once!
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
JB: I’m plotting out a YA novel about LGBT superheroes, something the online comics “Pride High” and “The Young Protectors” do very well. I may have come up with a few different twists. As for when it will come out, I’ll have to finish it first!
Since most of my LGBT-related fiction is flash-fiction, I’m posting an excerpt from a longer story which isn’t out yet. Pete and Merle are college kids in the 1980’s, both gay and both out who have a platonic friendship. Pete moves into Merle’s off-campus apartment after someone smashes melons on his dorm room door. (“Fruit, I got it.”) It goes without a hitch, except for Pete thinking he saw a bear outside one evening. I hope you enjoy it!
The Moon on the Breast of the New Fallen Snow
Maybe nothing would have happened if we hadn’t held the New Year’s Eve party. Nothing big, just a few friends from school who had no place else to go. I knew Travis from my one journalism class and Chris, I think, had a thing for Merle. As a matter of fact I had met Merle for the first time when Travis and Chris had dragged me to Fantasy, the big gay club in town. Travis and Chris were out, I mean really out. I was kind of out. A few days later I saw Merle on campus and we struck up a conversation and the friendship kept going. And we both agreed that Chris could be a pest who acted like he was about thirteen years old.
It wasn’t much of a party. We were all off work and out of school, so we got some tacos and some beer and wine coolers and played the stereo and the TV. Chris and Travis were the ones really drinking the beer. Merle sipped on one wine cooler for most of the evening. I had a couple of beers. Oh, and we had one bottle of cheap champagne for midnight. No champagne glasses, just paper cups.
Sometime after the ball dropped in New York City, Merle excused himself, I figured to get away from Chris who kept hitting on him the more he drank. A little closer to midnight I was feeling the effects of my two beers and went to use the bathroom. It was locked.
“Hey, Merle!” I called, knocking on the door. “Hurry it up, will ya?”
“It’s not him, it’s one of the other guys,” Travis said.
“Which other guys?” I asked.
“The cute one,” Chris said giggling.
“Well, I’ve got to take a leak,” I said.
“Do it in the sink, like in the dorm,” Chris said, laughing again.
I sighed and headed outside to find a tree. There were a cluster of them, looking like little Christmas trees at the other side of the house. The lights on the lower level were out; our landlords were either gone or sensibly asleep.
I finished my business and was about to head back upstairs when I saw a shadow move in the alley. I stayed hidden behind the trees. It was the bear-thing I’d seen the other night. But this time I could see it more clearly in the partial moonlight. It was built like a wolf, a big wolf. It sniffed the air and its teeth glinted in the moonlight.
The Moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/
Gave a luster of midday to objects below.
The lines ran through my head even though there was no snow, just the moon. Not even full. But enough to cast shadows and for me to see the thing.
I didn’t move. I didn’t even breathe. Hoping it wouldn’t see me. It was dark as a shadow, and I could barely make out the texture of its fur. I realized that there was a slight breeze coming at me from the bear-thing’s direction. I remembered reading that being upwind would keep some animal from smelling you.
The thing moved down the alleyway and looked to either side. Then it shuddered, swelled and became a black, shadowy blob and then condensed into a human figure.
Yeah, Merle. But I didn’t see it coming. I stared and about fell over, reached out and grabbed for a tree branch to keep from falling, clenched my fist on something sharp and yelled out as I fell to the ground with a crash. I lay there, the wind knocked out of me as I heard the footsteps running toward me. In a moment Merle stood over me, his face full of a look of worry and concern.
“You okay?” Merle asked.
“Yeah,” I managed to say. He reached down to help me up and I jerked away, almost hitting my head on the trunk of a tree.
He stared. His face was silently asking me if I’d seen.
“I’m not going to bite you,” he said as he helped me up. I heard fireworks pop in the distance and from upstairs the sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” played from the TV. It was midnight.
When we got back to the apartment Chris and Travis were making out on the couch. The guy whose name I couldn’t remember was sitting right in front of the TV with a can of beer in each hand. I was still a little shaky so Merle led me over to sit at the kitchen table.
“We’d better talk about this when everybody’s gone,” he whispered.
“Okay,” I said.
“I’ll get you a beer,” Merle said.
“Fine,” I said, amazed at how much I was calming down. A few minutes ago I might have run screaming for the edge of town, afraid that Merle was going to change into a monster and make me a late-night snack. At least I had stopped shaking. At the same time I was glad there were other people here.
In the morning I found Travis and Chris asleep under a blanket on the floor. I checked the fridge for milk and wondered if Merle ever stocked the fridge with raw meat to eat after he changed. Not for one minute did I think I’d imagined it. Especially after the wary glance Merle gave me when he came out of his bedroom. Neither of us had to work that day so we grabbed some more beer when we dropped Chris and Travis off. Then we sat down and I flat out asked him about his being a werewolf.
Jeff Baker, who also writes as Mike Mayak, has been most recently published in Queer Sci-Fi’s “Flight,” and issue 21 of “Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.” He posts flash fiction weekly on his blog at http:authorjeffbaker.com and writes a monthly column for Queer Sci-Fi. He graduated from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas where he still lives with his husband, Darryl. His Facebook page is at Jeff Baker, Author.