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, Jackson Marsh – Jackson was born in 2017 as the penname for me (James) so that I could publish my new gay fiction independently from my other writing work. I was born on the south coast of England during a blizzard, but now like to warm thing up with MM romance novels, gay mysteries and some occasional erotica. In 2007 I was awarded and EGPA award for my erotic short stories, and in 2018 I won a Best Screenplay award for one of my films. I am a diverse writer with thrillers, comedies and horror stories under my James belt, and now romance and mystery under my Jackson belt.
Thanks so much, Jackson, for joining me!
Jackson will give away an eBook copy (mobi or pdf) ‘The Blake Inheritance’ to one lucky winner. Comment below for a chance to win.
J. Scott Coatsworth: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
Jackson Marsh: My first novel was ‘Other People’s Dreams’ which I wrote under my own name back in 1996. I was on holiday on a Greek island, lying on a near-deserted beach when I saw a yacht come into the bay. Nothing unusual there. Not until it came closer and I saw that the crew were all young men in their 20s, and they were all naked. Hell, I thought, I’d like to be on that boat.
That evening, sitting outside my apartment in a very quiet village overlooking the bay, I thought, why not write it? I’d always enjoyed writing but was then working in musical theatre and hadn’t written a novel.
I wrote it over about 12 months and sent it off to the, then, top British publisher of gay fiction, Gay Men’s Press. They liked it, we started talking about its publication, and then the company folded. 20 years later, I self-published it as it was. It’s a decent story, a gay thriller set mainly on a boat around the Greek islands, with some erotic scenes, but it’s very much a first work.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
JM: I do use a pseudonym for my MM Romance and erotica, and it’s for a simple reason. I also write under my own name, James Collins, and have a following for my travel books and thrillers, comedies and horror novels. That readership is not the same readership as would enjoy MM Romance. Though most of my books have gay characters, they tend not to be gay romance or erotica, and to publish my Mentor series, for example, as me would only confuse and perhaps alienate my current supportive readership.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
JM: On my own work, approximately four hours per day, more on a good day when I don’t have to work for anyone else, weekends for example. But I also write for other people (reviews of websites, blog texts and so on), so really, I average about eight hours per day writing, four of which are freelance, four of which are for me.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
JM: Under my real name, I write thrillers, comedies and horror, plus travel books about living in Greece. I simply write what I feel I am ready to write at the time. If I’m in thriller mode, I’ll work on one of them, if feeling satirical, then a comedy.
As Jackson Marsh, I currently have three genres going. I have a book of short stories which are pure erotica dealing mainly with older/younger characters. Although these stores did win me an award back in 2007, I’ve not written any ‘pure erotica’ since. I have the Mentor series of four books which are older/younger romance stories, and I have two books now which are treasure hunt/mystery/romance/thrillers, ‘The Blake Inheritance’ and ‘The Stoker Connection.’
Again, I write whichever genre I feel I am best suited for at the time though sometimes a story idea will pop into my head unannounced and I’ll run with that instead of what I intended to write.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JM: I am both. Books like ‘The Blake Inheritance’ and ‘The Stoker Connection’ were plotted and planned, but that doesn’t stop me going away from my plans if it feels right. These kind of books have to be planned somewhat as they have clues that need to match up, timelines that are crucial and research needs to be done; a bit of historical research, or working out a family tree, that kind of thing.
‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’, my first Mentor novel, simply came out. I had thought of the situation before and then formed the characters, but after that, I just sat down with an opening scene and saw what came next. The other Mentors haven’t been planned either but I’ve kept notes as I go along, so I don’t get lost. I think it’s because the Mentor books are more character driven and the treasure hunt romances more plot driven.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
JM: I wanted to do two things with ‘The Stoker Connection’, and I feel I’ve achieved them to my satisfaction. Firstly, I wanted to create the idea that Bram Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula.’ What? Blasphemy, Shock horror! I wanted to do this because I love a good conspiracy theory and I know the novel, Dracula, inside and out. Since reading it at the age of 11, I always wanted to write in that form – diaries, journals, letters etc. – as that form lends itself to presenting ‘true’ fiction, or fiction with a reality feel. But what if the journals and diaries in ‘Dracula’ were real, and all Stoker did was collate them and present the book as fiction to spare the real people involved, and yet let them have their story told?
At the same time, I also wanted to remind myself of my youthful struggle with growing up gay in a place (and then, at a time) when there was so much shame and embarrassment connected to being gay. I had to transport my own experiences forward in time to suit my two main characters and the present day, which made things easier for at least one character, but still, the basics are there.
The biggest thing for me about being 17/18 in a rural community in southern England was the difficulty I had distinguishing between platonic love for and from my good friends, and sexual love. I craved both, as we all do, but I never, at that age, found a friend who reciprocated both. In ‘The Stoker Connection’, I wanted to explore what that would have felt like – because ‘Dracula’ after all, is a Gothic romance, romance being the critical word for me.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
JSC: Is it possible to do what Dexter and Morgan do in ‘The Stoker Connection’ and find clues in ‘Dracula’ that suggest the novel wasn’t fiction?
JM: Yes, it is to a certain extent. If anyone has a copy of the original imprint of Dracula, they can find the clues and references on the original page numbers mentioned in my novel. I was given such a copy for a birthday, and that’s the one I used. Original font, original page numbering and even a copy of Stoker’s contract were included, so that was my starting point.
Stoker used names of places and people, some of whom existed, some didn’t. There are also newspaper reports of specific events which appear in Dracula but were altered for the fiction. They or things very similar can also be found online. But mainly, my novel is fiction, and I’ve taken facts and used them to my story’s own advantage. So, anyone can compare my clues to what’s in Dracula and then make their own conclusion and do more research, and who knows what you might find?
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
JM: In ‘The Stoker Connection’, one of the main two characters, Dexter, has a best friend called Tim. He’s the kind of straight friend with a strong platonic bond who gets things wrong. He decides that he is certain Dexter is gay and throws a surprise coming out party for him which backfires and leads to a rift.
He’s a solid, reliable puppy though and realises his mistake and tries to make things better. There’s something in that relationship that could develop. A Bromance we might call it now, and I had a couple of those with friends in my teens. Intense feelings of friendship, but are they platonic love or is there a need for something more intimate…?
Perhaps Tim is the subject for a ‘curiosity’ kind of story; straight man finds that he loves his best mate so much that he wants to give him what he wants and so, for him, does the ultimate – sleeping with his best friend.
I’d find that interesting, but I’d need a good action/mystery story on which to hang the relationship.
JSC: If I were a Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads? Why? And can we have pictures to drool over?
JM: By the time it got to the big screen, the guys would be too old, but I’d be more than happy to have the role of Dexter played by KJ Apa, and Morgan by Casey Cott (both seen in Riverdale). KJ’s hair colour isn’t quite right for Dexter, but everything gets changed for Hollywood anyway.
This guy just oozes sexuality and has a brilliant angle on that bromance thing. Although in Riverdale he has his bromance with Cole Sprouse (also cute), I’d like to see more of Casey Cott who plays gay guy Kevin, and he’d make a good Morgan, the dark, serious broody one. The two of them together…!
I didn’t have them in mind at all when writing the novel and have only seen them since finishing it, but yes, they would do and I’d trust them with my characters and would love to see how they handled the first-time sex scenes that are in the book.
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
JM: I’d be really self-indulgent and visit myself when I was 16, and I’d give myself a lecture. I’d say something along the lines of:
“These next few years aren’t going to be easy. You’re growing up in a rural/backward place, you know you’re different, and you know you only fancy boys. There’s no way you can talk about this to anyone you know, and you’re not even sure what the word is for yourself. (This would have been 1979, southern Kent, UK.)
But the things to remember are to be honest and be strong. Tell your best friend what you’re feeling, not towards him perhaps, but generally. If he’s a friend then he’ll stick by you; if he doesn’t then he wasn’t your best friend. When you meet someone and you think they feel the same way as you, or even if they don’t, just tell them. But, be strong no matter what consequences your honesty brings.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes.
Other guys will be happy to fool around as long as it’s very private, but there’s more to discovering your sexuality than just sex. It’s going to get easier as you go along.”
If someone had said that to me when I was even 15, I’d have squirmed and denied having gay feelings as that was what I was conditioned to think was the right way to behave; being gay was illegal then until you were 21. I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it, but I would have remembered it and, when my older self had left, I’d have taken it on board.
And now for Jackson’s new book: The Stoker Connection:
What if you could prove that the greatestGothic horror novel of all time was a true story?
Dexter and Morgan meet on their eighteenth birthday. The attraction is instant but confusing. As they deal with coming out, they are bound together by more than first love.
Both keep diaries, and each has the same goal – to prove that Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula’. They are convinced that Harker, Van Helsing and the others existed and wrote the novel’s journals themselves. If Dex and Morgan can prove it, they will blow the lid off the vampire myth: Dracula existed.
As the two teenagers fall in love, so they fall into an adventure as thrilling as it is dangerous. They are being watched, andsomeone is willing to kill to stop them from making ‘The Stoker Connection.’
The Stoker Connectionis an MMRomance treasure hunt thriller. It draws on the original text of ‘Dracula’, but it is not a story about vampires. It is a story of first love and the power of friendship. Sometimes funny, it is an intriguing and honest account compiled from Dex and Morgan’s original diaries.
Dexter Mitchell’s diary
18 November. Folkestone.— Talk about a bolt from the blue. I reckon I was born to have mad ideas that, in a flash, were so right and certain but also so unthought out. As soon as Morgan said, ‘One seventy,’ I knew the answer to the numerology reference. By the time I’d found my copy of Wolf’s ‘The Essential Dracula’, my hardon had deflated, andmy certainty-ometerhit its limit.
I know, going from your first erotic conversation to Leonard Wolf isn’t a normalkind of thing to do, but we’d been talking about coincidences, so why not…?
‘What is it?’ Morgan asked.
He’d taken my hand which had not helped the painful stiffy in the 501s, but there are times when pleasure can only come with a little pain and, like climbing ropes in gym aged twelve, that friction-pain doesn’t half help the pleasure.
‘One-seventy,’ I said, putting the book on the table. I pushed our plates away to make space.
‘What are you thinking?’
‘To put it bluntly,’ I said, flicking pages. ‘I’m thinking about kissing you and grabbing your dick.’ I mean, why not say it? The gay cat was out of the bag, the ‘I fancy you’ horse had left the stable door open, and there was nothing left lose apart from my dignity. It had survived quite well up until then. Telling Morgan I thought he was gorgeous had set Mr Sym’s cliché-awareness bells ringing, and yet the darkly handsome man opposite me hadn’t batted either of his gorgeously thick eyebrows.
‘I couldn’t have put it better myself,’ he replied, which caught me mid page-turn.
I tried not to picture the condition of his frontage as I carried on skipping. Not, as one might think, a classic British comedy of the seventies, but the action of my fingers and my heart. The actionof my own frontage was up and down, like an audience who can’t decide if their standing ovation is appropriate.
‘What are you looking for?’
‘Come on Mr Grammar-School,’ I teased. ‘Use your straight As brain.’
‘One seventy?’ He thought aloud. ‘What’s on page one-seventy? That’s around chapter thirteen, I’d say.’
‘End of chapter ten,’ I corrected him.
‘I think not.’
I showed him the book open at page one-seventy. On the right-hand page, chapter 11 was headed with an image of a wolf breaking a window.
‘In that edition,’ Morgan said.
‘It’s the only one I’ve got with me.’
‘Okay, so what are you looking for?’
‘Numerology,’ I replied, skimming the textand looking for references to numbers or anything that might be a clue. I read words aloud. ‘A thousand times, two nights of travel. End of chapter… Note by Jack Williamson… Nineteen-twenties… Wolf’s footnotes…’
I was interrupted by a bump on my thigh. Morgan was pushing himself onto my bench to sit next to me and I’d not seen him get up or come around the table. I shifted along just enough so that he would have to remain pressed against me or else fall off the end.
‘You are so shallow,’ he said and nudged my shoulder.
I moved further away, he stayed where he was. We looked at each other, he raised his eyebrows, giving permission. I slid back, we both smiled as coyly as geishas and coughed.
‘You are also barking up the wrong tree,’ Morgan said running his finger down the page. ‘Why one-seventy?’
‘Stoker’s year of birth and this year,’ I said. ‘One-seventy years apart.’
‘You and melive one-seventy miles apart.’
‘Depends which way you travel.’
‘Yes, but the coincidences?’ They were already beginning to sound like the feeble stabs in the dark they were.
‘Have to be coincidences,’ he reasoned.
‘And?’ I played him at his own game, encouraging to expand his thinking.
‘You mean you’re saying…’ He looked at me sideways, trying to keep down a smile. ‘That Stoker knew we’d come along one hundred and seventy years after his birth looking for clues to the origins of his bestseller, and thought, “I shall leave the boys a hint. Let’s start at page one hundred and seventy.” Really, Dex?’
I felt stupid. ‘Yeah, alright,’ I said, closing the book. ‘Just a thought.’
I sensed him watching me as I put the book back in my bag and when I turned to him, he was smiling. His lips, deep pink and usually set in a dead straight line, were crinkling his skin, and the beard-growth on his chin looked like a field after stubble-burning.
‘If you ask me,’ he said, ‘it’s about time I let go of the scientific way of dealing with things and just went with my gut instinct. Why shouldn’t there be clues of some sort in numerology? I mean, we’re talking about real life vampire hunters here.’
‘Are you taking the piss?’
‘No, Dex.’ He put his arm around me (heart leap, dick twitch) and pulled us together in a matey way before walking around to the other side of the table. (Quick chance to notice frontof trousers. Thought I’d faint.) He sat and took a book from his bag. ‘This version,’ he said, holding it up, ‘is paginated exactly likethe original.’
It wasn’t an edition I’d seen before. ‘How do you know?’ I asked.
‘Because it says so in the introduction, and because I’ve compared it to a first edition.’
‘You what?’ I immediately imagined Morgan’s home littered with first edition books and relics from the novels of Stoker. An Egyptian mummy, a stuffed cobra, Harker’s kukri knife and Morris’ bowie displayed on antique furniture that wouldn’t be out of place in Van Helsing’s front room.
‘It’s not a real first edition,’ he said, bursting the bubble. ‘It’s a limited edition though, exact reprint from the original and the same layout as this cheaper version. Here we are.’
I wondered if I should join him on his side of the table, but he made up my mind for me by sliding along and calling me over.
I imagine he caught a glimpse of the on-going state in the front of my jeans, but I doubted he’d need smelling salts. I did see him glance sideways and back again, and I didn’t mind. It was flattering. I slid into his place, but he stayed a distance away.
We looked at each other, andthe same pattern of body language played out with me raising my eyebrows and giving him permission to slide right up to me, soour warm thighs were pressing together. I wanted to put my arm around him, but then I also wanted to do other things. I didn’t, but I manageda shoulder nudge which was returned as if we were sharing secret knowledge.
‘Page one-seventy,’ he said. ‘Originally in chapter thirteen.’ He nudged me that time.
‘Alright, professor,’ I said. ‘You win that one. What’s going on?’
We scanned the page, butneither of us saw any references to numbers or anything that stood out as a possible clue. It would have helped if we knew what we were looking for.
‘There is something here,’ Morgan said as he re-read the page.
‘The word mystery?’ I suggested.
‘Well, it does say, “…leaving me with a new mystery… a new puzzle,”‘ he read.
‘Yes, but, like you said, how would Stoker know that we’d come along exactly one hundred and seventy years later, meet up on our birthdays, have this on our minds and become friends… or more?’ I had to get that bit in and, when I said it, Morgan put his hand on my thigh.
I looked up to make sure no-one could see me, which was stupid because I was in a gay café and his hand and my thigh were under the table. I returned the gesture and held his. His Chinos were soft beneath my palm, but I could feel that his leg was tense. I considered letting my hand wander, but only for a second. His head turned, I saw it from the corner of my eye. He tapped my leg. I looked at him. Eyes met. Bodies shifted. Lips met. Tongues met. Hands moved to hardons and, in that ungainly mess, we kissed and fondled each other until our waitress said she would have to start selling tickets if we didn’t stop.
She took away our plates and our romantic moment. A romantic moment that reeked of testosterone and was on the verge of developing into a full naked boner exposé. I decided that she was not getting a tip.
We had broken apart sheepishly but remained gazingat each other. Our hands had automatically sought cover when the waitress appeared, but my left and his right found each other and, with fingers entwined, we rested them on our still-pressed thighs.
‘Guess we’ll have to wait,’ I croaked. My throat was dry, and my lips felt the size of a mattress.
‘Sadly,’ he said. ‘I’m not running off to the toilet or booking into a knocking shop for the rest of the afternoon.’
‘I wouldn’t mind.’
‘I would. No,’ hesaid with an air of finality. ‘I think we know where we are on this…’ He squeezed my hand. ‘Now we should plan what we do next about this.’ He nodded to the folders and book.
‘You said I can come and stay with you?’ I suggested. ‘I could blow off work and use my train fare…’
‘No, Dex,’ he said, his voice quiet but firm. ‘I have things to sort out at home, butyes, you must come and stay with me. Soon. In the meantime, can we just do what we said we would? Chat by Skype, see how things work out, and work on the project?’
It was hardto keep back my juvenileexcitement. I’d just been kissing this gorgeous man while we grappled with each other’s cocks. Another five seconds of that and I’d have jizzed in my pants. Maybe I would leave the interrupting waitress a tip after all.
I swallowed my disappointment and said, ‘You’re right of course.’
Jackson was born in 2017 as the penname for me (James) so that I could publish my new gay fiction independently from my other writing work. I was born on the south coast of England during a blizzard, but now like to warm thing up with MM romance novels, gay mysteries and some occasional erotica. In 2007 I was awarded and EGPA award for my erotic short stories, and in 2018 I won a Best Screenplay award for one of my films. I am a diverse writer with thrillers, comedies and horror stories under my James belt, and now romance and mystery under my Jackson belt.
At the moment I am concentrating on two genres: older/younger MM romance, and youth mysteries with early 20s main characters and a love story included.
I live on a Greek island with my husband. My interests outside of writing and reading are outdoor pursuits, traveling, piano and genealogy. That’s probably why my books tend to involve characters who are musicians, writers, mystery-solvers and rock climbers; there’s a bit of me in every one.