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Author Spotlight: John Genest

John Genest Author Photo

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: Connecticut native John Genest was weaned on stories of magic and fantasy. When he discovered at 19 there were people who still called themselves Witches and subscribed to a modern-day religion known as Wicca, he self-dedicated and came out of the ‘broom closet,’ then the other closet a couple of years later into the Bear subculture of hairy homosexuals. Twenty years later, he thought he had to write about it. 

His first short story, Casting Call for a Daddybear, was published in Tales from the Den: Wild and Weird Stories for Bears, his poem Upon Reflection in the Bear poetry anthology Hibernation and Other Poems from Bear Bards and another story, Temet Nosce, in The Biggest Lover: Big Boned Men’s Erotica for Chubs and Chasers, all from Bear Bones Books. Just Breathe was also published in A Taste of Honey by Dreamspinner Press. 

His e-books Bearly a Witch and The Coven of Arcas and short story A Midwinter Night’s Dream may also be found on Nook, Kindle or

Thanks so much, John, 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?

John Genest: When I was forty, I saw a call for submission for an anthology of wild and weird stories about Bears of the hairy and homosexual variety. Writing what I know, my story was about a Wiccan (Witch) of a Bear named Jim casting bottle spells with his coven to bring something into each of their lives: a baby, a new job and in his case, a Daddybear. This first story led to two others and four poems being published in other anthologies and my first novel Bearly a Witch, written simultaneously with an unrelated second novel entitled The Coven of Arcas, being self-published as e-books. Sequels are on the way.           

JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?

I would say my genre is magical realism as well as ‘bearotica.’ My writing style is free form: I sit at the keyboard with a general idea of where a chapter starts, then let my characters show me where they want to go and write down what I see in my mind’s eye.  I’m not sure where conversations will lead or what their reactions will be, and it’s been great fun being led by them further into the labyrinth.  Once a chapter’s done, I try to encapsulate it with a provocative title. My first short story Casting Call for a Daddybear became the prologue and first chapter of Bearly a Witch with other chapters titles like Samhain Rhymes with Plowin’A Cup for Tea, a Cookie and Yoo-Hoo and Coasting the Yuletide.   

JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

JG: I fly by the seat of my pants when writing. I don’t have outlines or drafts, just a general idea where each book will end, and it’s up to me to put the cream filling between the first chapter and last. I wrote back and forth chapter for chapter for my first two novels but have since loosened up with Bearly a Sequel (working title) currently at twenty-five chapters and The Sequel of Arcas (also working title) at thirteen.   

JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written and tell us why.

JG: I poured a great deal of myself into my first book Bearly a Witch.  The introduction of its protagonist, Jim Braddock, was fairly autobiographical and the book portrays the first couple of months of his first relationship with Glenn Marsden, the Daddybear he conjured into his life.  He also meets on Thursday nights with his coven and works at Glenn’s bookstore with Goth part-timer Hellsbeth where he meets his nemesis in the form of Gary, a bulky biker Glenn shot some porn with back in the nineties. It’s a light-hearted romp with some dramatic bumps in the road, tugging a heartstring here and twisting a nipple there, and when my Bears get frisky as they often do, there’s no fade to black.       

JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?

JG: As a participant for many years in the Pagan and Bear communities, I’ve drawn on past experiences for inspiration but a great deal of my writing is wish fulfillment. The coven in Bearly a Witch is the tight-knit loyal group I hope to find one day, and Arcadia in The Coven of Arcas, with its pristine lawn behind nine-foot-high fences, hot tub and Bear Den of Iniquity in the basement, is a wonderland of Bear camaraderie in which I would love to partake in real life. In the meanwhile, I enjoy visiting them in my mind and my work, and I hope my readers will as well.    

JSC: What’s your writer cave like? Photos?

Since the start of COVID, my bedroom has served as my home office as well as my writer cave and Bear den. Above my desk is what I call “myself on a shelf.” In ascending order, I have a CD and DVD collection on the bottom, a collection of Bearaphernalia with my published books stacked to the right, a shelf of ritual tools, labeled bottles of herbs, various votive candle holders and a display of my love of black cats as a quintessential witch’s familiar at the top.

John Genest Writer Cave

JSC: Tell us one thing about them that we don’t learn from Bearly a Witch, the secret in their past.

Eileen Madsen-Avery, a fellow witch Jim calls Momma Bear in Bearly a Witch, had a very strained relationship with her judgmental conservative mother.  Escaping to the Rhode Island School of Design on a work-study scholarship to earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, she spent a decade there before returning to Connecticut and made ends meet with a particular skill set that’s only been hinted at so far. Stay tuned. 

JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.

JG: Hellsbeth, the Goth who works part-time at Ballinger’s Books with Glenn and Jim in Bearly a Witch, has dyed black hair with blood-red roots and bangs, kohl-rimmed eyes to stare you down and a unique fashion sense with Nine Inch Nails T-shirts, utilikilts and Doc Martens. Good with the customers and as fiercely intelligent as she is sarcastic, she’s also very guarded, quick to anger and will make you suffer if you get on her bad side. There’s a lot of backstory behind her projected persona and I hope she’ll let me in one day so we can learn more about her.  

JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?

JG: Jim Braddock, Bearly a Witch: Demanding? Quite the opposite, actually. John took a break from writing during COVID and Glenn and I were stuck in Glenn’s apartment during a blizzard for two years! I’m glad he finally dug us out so we could move on with our lives.     

Glenn Marsden, Bearly a Witch: John’s one hot Big Bear, and I know he’s got the hots for me too. Maybe if Jim and I open things up someday, I’ll ask if he’d like to join us. Wouldn’t mind being the meat in that sandwich. Woof!

Craig Keller, The Coven of Arcas: As a professor of Comparative Literature, I enjoy John’s writing.  It’s great he likes to talk things through with Ryan, but he also understands that sometimes you just need to cut through the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter, and that’s where I come in.

Ryan Swanson, The Coven of Arcas: Demanding? No; John’s a sweetheart, and he gets me in a way most people don’t. When you pick up on other people’s emotions all the time, it can be tough to separate your own and he understands the importance of self-care and keeping an even keel. He lets me talk, and he doesn’t shy away if I need a good cry either. I love that about him.

Abe Staunton, The Coven of Arcas: If it wasn’t for John, I never would have met Craig in his office that day and got to talking with him about mythology and other things.  I can’t believe how much my life’s changed since they invited me to join their coven. I finally have a safe space to talk about being gay and they’ve been so generous including me in their lives and introducing me to their friends. Makes it hard to go back to my life outside Arcadia where no one knows who I really am.

Malcolm Nowell, The Coven of Arcas: I don’t know what John’s problem is. He introduces me as the hottest Bear in the coven, then sends me on vacation to Fire Island for most of the book! Hopefully he’ll wise up to what his readers really want and write more about me in the sequel.   

JSC: What are you working on now and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

JG: I’ve had three poems accepted to be published in a Bear-themed poetry anthology from Bearskin Lodge Press this spring, and I’m working on the sequels to my first two novels. In Bearly a Sequel, Jim and Glenn have just sat down to brunch so Glenn can introduce him to a couple of his cousins, and Abe and Malcolm are breaking bread to sort out their differences while Ryan’s having a therapy session to talk through misgivings about a recent play scene in The Sequel of Arcas. I hope for the best for all of them but that’s not always possible, is it? You’ll just have to read the original books to find out what brought them there before the sequels are released, won’t you?   

Bearly a Witch

And now for John’s new book: Bearly a Witch:

On the first day of spring, three modern-day Witches cast bottle spells into the sea to bring their hearts’ desires. Eileen wants a baby; Sarah, a full-time job; Jim, a Daddybear to call his own. Join Jim as he navigates the kinks and cuddles of an exciting new relationship with someone from his distant past and gathers with his crafty coven for spells, sabbats and the season of the witch.

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“Do you think I made a mistake?” Jim asked Eileen. “I’ve been reading up on witches’ bottles, the ones you fill with rusty nails, dirt, broken glass and piss and bury near the front door of your enemy’s house to keep their harm toward you in check. Do you think your spells were actually released when your bottles broke on the rocks?”

“I don’t see why not,” she said. 

“Then it’s possible because I didn’t do enough research, I trapped my desire for a Daddybear inside my bottle and now it’s floating around out in the ocean somewhere like a goddamn genie till it breaks or someone pops the cork?”

As Jim barked his discontent, he telekinetically tipped a mug full of pens over into Eileen’s lap. She gathered them, flipped the mug upright with her pinkie and put them back.

“They’re all gonna laugh at you,” she said, aping the famous line echoing through Carrie White’s mind before she went psychokinetically postal and torched her prom.

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