Jessewave is pleased to welcome Anne Cain and Barbara Sheridan for what we hope will be a terrific and VERY revealing interview. I retained some of my original notes and prompts to my guests in the final creation so that y’all can see it was a lot of fun and they were good sports about being interviewed! I must also, in the interest of full disclosure, state here that I received “help” from a number of sources including authors Mychael Black and Ally Blue and our international contributor from LaBelle Province (Quebec, Canada) Mary M.
Much sought-after and renowned graphic artist Anne Cain has been drawing for just about as long as she can remember. Though most of her art is digital these days, she enjoys working in a wide range of mediums including pencils, ink and watercolors. Since 2006, she has worked with a number of wonderful publishers to create cover art, including LooseId, Samhain Publishing, Total-e-bound, and Liquid Silver Books.
Whenever she’s not chained to the PC or doodling away in a sketchbook, Anne loves reading, hanging out with her pets and spending too much time watching anime.
Barbara Sheridan lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with an unruly menagerie including a turtle that thinks it’s a cat, and four cats—one of which “sees things” and has a mad crush on a Japanese musician.
Barbara is an award-winning author and she loves to write in the paranormal and historical genres and is having the time of her life collaborating with Anne Cain on the Blood Brothers/Dragon’s Disciple series. She’s been inspired by everything from the original Dark Shadows and B-horror flicks to loads of old TV westerns, cowboy movies and hot Japanese musicians. 2008 marks her tenth year in publishing.
Anne and Barbara have been writing together for three years and have authored 13 books together. Separately Anne has 3 published works to her credit and Barbara has 7
Hello ladies and welcome. I would like to divide this interview into a couple of segments – art and writing if that’s OK with you. Anne you’re up first -
Part 1 – Anne Cain, Artist
||Anne, what would you like your fans to know about you? (Being a voyeur or a Madam is not a good answer)HEY! How did you know what my secret pastimes are?!? LOL—J/K!Seriously, there’s a lot of really boring or goofy stuff about me that I think fans would prefer not to know. For example, I like avocado sandwiches. That’s right—plain slices of fresh avocado between two pieces of whole grain bread. It’s weird, I know. *g*
Professionally, I’ve wanted to be everything from a stand-up comedian to a palaeontologist. Then I turned six-years-old and I realized no one thought I was particularly funny (at least not in the good sense—ha!), and I had more fun drawing dinosaurs than trying to dig up ‘fossils’ (a.k.a, pieces of broken flower pots) from the backyard.
I now obsess over beautiful men and the love shared between those very same beautiful men. There must be a link between dinosaurs and yaoi, somehow. Maybe it was those historically inaccurate storybooks I used to have that featured dinos and the scantily-clad cavemen who hunted them…
So, is it cool to be Anne Cain, on top of your game? (“I’m not on top of my game” is not a good answer because we know that isn’t true)
ARGH, it’s not fair how you keep guessing my answers! *laughs* Honestly, I don’t consider myself a very cool person–there’s an awful nerdy and geeky side to me always lurking beneath the surface. It’s the part of me that refuses to take the PC to the shop whenever something needs to be replaced (I can change my own hard-drive, dammit!).
But I do like the direction where my artwork and designs are heading. There will always be room for growth, and I won’t stop trying to be a better artist than I am today. But I’m at this wonderful point where the work I’m doing helps make others happy, and that’s just so…awesome, you know? As a creator, it’s incredibly fulfilling. And that’s what’s really cool. J
||What is your background/training for your work as an illustrator and cover artist?My background is kind of interesting. When I went to college, I’d considered studying computer animation for a while. Then I got into journalism and publishing through the school paper and everything about that industry just clicked with me. I’ve also put in quite a few hours with more traditional art classes—painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.
What medium(s) do you use in your work as an illustrator and artist?
A lot of my work, especially painting, is done digitally. (Photoshop, I love thee!) But 100% of my illustrations involve good ol’ pencil and paper at one stage or another. Sometimes I’ll just need to sketch out a series of quick thumbnails, but for any illustration that has line work, I’ll draw on it on either Bristol board or Deleter paper, scan it, and then add colors on the computer.
Back in the day, I used to paint with oils a lot. Haven’t had much time for it lately. Why can’t actual paints dry faster?!? *shakes fist at the laws of physics*
Do you ever read any of the books for which you illustrate covers, perhaps because of the blurb?
I’ve wanted to read a BUNCH, but not a whole lot of titles make it through my TBR pile. L I blame the nature of my work—after sitting at the computer for so long, working on a project(s), it’s hard to keep my bum in the chair the extra hours I’d need to read e-books. (I already know what you’re going to say, Wave: why don’t I get with the times and buy a PDA or reader already??)
I’ll disclose the very first book I’d done the cover for that I read: I’m pretty sure it was TA Chase’s “Here Be Dragons”.
||When you’re approached by a potential client, what and how much information do you need to know about the project before you decide whether to accept the commission? (“To see the size of their bank balances” is not the right answer)*giggles* Nooo, I don’t ask to see that. )When I’m contacted by someone, I love emails that tell me right off the bat what kind of art he or she is interested in, when they need it by, what they’d like to see, etc. That tells me, “Hey, this person took the time to consider their project and they know what they want. They’re serious clients.”
I’ll tell you what my pet peeve is: I’ve had a few cases where I’ll get an email out of the blue from a stranger, and the person just asks for a price list. And that’s it. They don’t give me any project specs, or details, or nothin’. And when I ask for more info, I never hear from them again!
If a potential client is obnoxious but the book blurb really turns you on would you accept the assignment? Hey, you’re human too! (I was going to ask if you would charge them double but decided that would not be playing fair)
A girl has to draw the line somewhere. I don’t care how many times Rob Schneider begs me over the phone to do the cover to his upcoming exposé, “Being Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo”, I will NOT do it. Maybe. XD
(Disclaimer: Anne Cain has actually never been approached by Mr. Schneider, but she would still say no if he had. Possibly.)
||Do your clients require you to use certain models for their book covers? (Naked firemen, maybe?) Or do you have your own in-house models? (I need their names and addresses if you do, for official purposes of course)The day I have in-house models, is the day I become too busy stalking them around the place with my camera to ever sit down in front of the computer again! *g*
Sometimes clients will have ‘pre-selected’ the models or photos they’d like me to use on a cover, but for the most part, I have creative freedom to choose what’s going to work best on a design. I’ve found a couple of really talented photographers—one here in the US and one in Russia—who’ve agreed to work with me on getting some shots of sexy male models. I can’t wait for the chance to use their photos in an upcoming project!
Because of your reputation for quality and innovative artistic expression, a lot of writers want to have an “Anne Cain” cover for their books. When there are competing requests for your services, what criteria goes into your decision-making process?
Argh … I hate it when my schedule gets so crazy that I can’t keep up with all the things I’d love to do! It makes for a very frazzled Anne L If I get too many job requests (this usually happens in January, then March/April/May—aka the start of Con Season), I select the work based on deadlines and how much time is going to be needed for a particular project. Just to give an example, if I’m approached by someone to do a painting with a pressing deadline of 72 hours or less, and I’m also contacted by someone else who needs cover design using photos due within the same time frame, I couldn’t realistically accept the commission for the painting. When I was first starting out I disappointed a client under similar circumstances, and I still groan and bury my face in my hands just thinking about it.
||Which artists are your inspiration, both professionally and personally?Professionally, I love so many different artists: John Picacio, Brom, Ashley Wood, Kazusa Takashima, and Kinuko Y. Craft, to name a few. Personally, there are three amazing artists online who’ve provided a lot of support and creative inspiration: Croco from CrocoDesigns, April Martinez and Cris Griffin. Scott Carpenter has also been wonderful to work with, and my sister is a *huge* inspiration too.
Is there anything really exciting that you are working on at present that you would like to share with your fans?
Of course! I’ve always got something cooking. I just recently finished four illustrations for Yaoi Press’ upcoming artbook “Your Lips Say No”. (The book is very much for ‘Mature Readers’, so expect the artwork to be very bold, and very, very sexy.) I’m also (slowly) working on a personal collection of paintings to put together in a print book.
From my perspective I think your best book cover to date is for “Fireflies” by Ally Blue, but the covers for “Forgive and Forget” by A. Steele and the upcoming “And The Two Shall Become One” by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael, all of which are on my blog, are running neck and neck. “Talons”, “Here be Dragons” “Leashed” are all favourite covers as well. On Wings of Blue by some author who goes by the name of Anne Cain is also in there. Do you have a favourite AC cover?
||Umm…*thinks* Damn! It’s always so hard for me to choose a favourite since I put a little piece of myself into every cover or commission. There are so many that I loved working on because the authors are just so fabulous, or the story means something to me on a personal level. Right now, I’m really proud of how the cover to the print edition for Jet Mykles’ “Dark Elves: Taken” came out. The stories are excellent, and I really wanted the artwork to have a moody, dark, and sensual tone to do them justice. I also like the tenderness that shows in the cover to “Secret Moon”.
Ally Blue : Okay, ask Anne how she reads my mind to come up with the AMAZING covers she does!
Shhh…don’t tell this to Ally, but I can’t really take the credit for her covers. It’s all in the stories themselves! She lets me have a sneak peek at the manuscripts, and it’s just so easy to fall in love with her characters. The design for her covers falls right into place after that. I have that same kind of wonderful experience with a few other authors too.
||Ally Blue: Oh and ask them if they have written band slash for their Japanese bands! There’s one in particular they are HUGE fans of but I can’t remember the name. If they have written some slashfic, I want linksLOLOLOL!!! It’s Dir en grey, dude! *bop* Love those guys. We’ve never written any slashfic, but “Orange Moon” did start out with the intention of being a fic. But then the characters took on lives of their own, and it snowballed into a totally original book.
Part 2 – Anne Cain, Writer
Do you regard yourself, in terms of your career, primarily as an artist or a writer? If you had to choose, what would be your preference and why? (Split personality maybe?J)
Hmmm…another really tough question, Wave! I think I view myself leaning more towards the artist-side. Sometimes I hit these slow moments in my writing where I just need to close Word and step away from the keyboard for a few days…or weeks, as the case may be. *sheepish grin* But I can’t imagine ever going a day without doodling something or working on a digital painting. And a lot of the times, it’s through drawing that I learn more about a character who’s been giving me a hard time in a story, and that helps me get over my writer’s block.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement professionally?
The day Barb and I finished the first volume of The Dragon’s Disciple. That was the first time I’d ever completed a story longer than 20K words. It was a very “Wow” moment!
So, now you have graduated from the Writing School of Hard Knocks and are an established author. What didn’t you know about the business that really turns you off? Or on?
Bwahahaha…between us, Wave, I’ve been held back a couple of semesters at that Writing School of Hard Knocks.
The thing I didn’t know about the business is just how much of it depends on marketing. That can suck the fun right out of the process, I’ll tell you! After all that hard work writing, authors then have to go out and try to sell the product. It can be frustrating when you have no idea where to find your target audience.
Since you are an illustrator, do you draw a picture of your hero or heroine digitally before you write their story, sort of as a visual aid? (And are they in bed doing the nasty?)
Drawing characters is a must! Like I said before, if I’m stumped on a story, sketching the heroes (I don’t draw very many ladies, actually) can really help me get through a rough spot. And, um, yes…sometimes they are doing *cough* you know…*cough*
You have achieved a considerable amount of critical success both as a writer and as an artist. What matters most to you, book sales or being lauded by your peers as the best cover artist in the business?
I love writing, and book sales mean that I’ve maybe made someone smile for a couple of hours while they read the story. But if I can help bring another writer’s characters to life and the cover really resonates with the author and his or her readers, that in itself is such a fantastic experience. I wouldn’t trade either one, to tell you the truth. J
Which of your books has been your best seller as a solo writer?
The Pawprints stories have done really well, and I’m thrilled. The stories are pure fun, and I’m just happy to know folks are enjoying them!
What do you do for fun other than play with your dog Penny?
Reading yaoi! I lovelovelove it – gay romance in general is one of my passions. I also like swimming (and not just because of the cute swim instructors in speedos mind you … though, that’s a plus *g*) hitting my favorite dim sum restaurant, playing video games like Resident Evil or Mario Kart.
What question have you never been asked in an interview (or anywhere else) but have been dying to answer?
I can’t top Shane’s and Myc’s answer—theirs was too awesome! LOL
For those readers who didn’t see Shayne’s and Myc’s answer to this same question, here it is:
Shayne: How close are you and Myc…really? *snickers* But then I might not be dying to answer that as much as let the readers wonder.
Mychael: Heh. “Who’s the top?” maybe… In that case, it would be Shayne. *winks*
Part 3 – Barbara Sheridan, Author
What would you like your fans to know about you?
That I’m probably old enough to be their mother. And if I was their mother they’d most likely be embarrassed as hell by the fact that I have no problem travelling 400 miles to a J-rock band and planting myself right in front of the stage.
Also that Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and I were born the same year. Obviously I’m the one who wasn’t in line the day they passed out the fame and fortune gene.
I really admire how you persevered, in the face of rejections for years and against all odds, to pursue a writing career and become an award winning author. (I wonder whatever happened to that first author who basically gave you the finger?) In view of this rich experience what advice would you offer aspiring writers?
As far as I know that first author gave up writing a few years back and quite a few who debuted in print when I did and made a bit of a splash have drifted off, too. Of course there are some who’ve really hit the big time. Me, I’m in the middle of that spectrum.
Apart from making Wile E. Coyote their personal hero I would advise them to have a “real” career because you really need something to pay the bills with more predictability than writing can.
As an award-winning writer, what do you prefer – the fame or fan support?
I’d like to see real fame once before I die in terms of the bigass Barnes & Noble window display or my book in every Target and Walmart in the land or a movie deal (I mean, who wouldn’t?) But hearing that someone liked your book or fell in love with your characters is truly priceless and it makes all those bumps in the publishing road easier to take. I urge all you readers to take a minute to drop your favourite author an email even if it’s just a quick. “I really like your stuff.”
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement professionally?
It would be the New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf award for Best First Book for my debut Timeless Wish back in 1999. There were other books entered that had a lot more “buzz” than mine but my characters were the ones that struck a chord with the reviewers and booksellers who judged the contest.
That book broke a lot of “writing rules” but it didn’t matter in the end. All that mattered was that those judges got swept up in the fictional world and awarded me that cool little plaque that still brightens my day whenever I see it.
Which of your books has been the most successful to date in terms of sales both as a solo author and your partnership with Anne?
This one is tough. My first two books were with a major New York publisher and had a pretty wide distribution. The e-books Anne and I have done have been doing pretty well in terms of continuous sales but it’s still less than anything from a larger company.
When you start a new book, what influences your choice of subject? Characters? Plot?
For me it’s usually a situation or a question. For example our latest one Dark Whispers was inspired by a bit of a music video. Dir en grey’s [KR] Cube, when Die saunters into the nightclub looking like a hit man (or in my head undercover cop) it hit me that he was after people responsible for threatening or hurting someone close to him and it all spun off from there.
Part 4 – Writing Partnership
You have been writing partners since 2005. Why do you think your partnership is successful and what are the challenges of writing with a partner? How do you collaborate?
Barb–I think it’s successful because we have such a blast doing it. We never really know where the other person will take the story until they say “Okay, your turn!”
The biggest challenge this year I think has been finding the time to work together.
Anne: I have to agree with everything B said. We RP our stories, so there’s always this spontaneity to the plot! But since my schedule has been so swamped this year, we haven’t been able to sit down and work on anything new.
What genres do you write and why?
Barb–I’m addicted to paranormal, historical and combinations thereof. I grew up back in the days of no cable or Internet so there were only a few things to watch on TV and most of them were things like Dark Shadows, the Munsters, The Addams Family and old John Wayne movies and shows like Wild Wild West, Big Valley and Bonanza.
Anne: For the past three years, I’ve pretty much written only yaoi and gay romance. I. Love. It. There’s something very powerful and moving about the idea of true love being shared between men, and it’s so much fun to celebrate that. Within that context, I like paranormals and historicals like Barb, with some fantasy and horror also. J
For those of us who are still unsure of the meaning, could you give us the 411 on yaoi and manga? Why is yaoi a recurring theme in your books together?
Barb—Why do we keep coming back to the yaoi? Because we’re hopelessly pervy? Don’t answer that! I really don’t know how to explain it but I think it’s the same sort of fascination guys have with seeing two women together doing the deed. It falls into delightfully wicked territory.
Anne: In a nutshell, yaoi started out as genre of manga (comics) in Japan that focused on romances between guys. Traditionally, the stories were written and drawn with the intention of appealing to a female audience, but there are plenty of guys out there who enjoy yaoi also. (Here’s a little trivia: the word “yaoi” literally means “no climax, no resolution, no meaning”). In case readers are interested in learning more about yaoi, Aestheticism.com is one of the best western resources on the topic. Check them out! http://www.aestheticism.com/visitors/reference/aestheticism.htm )
Stateside, the definition of yaoi is evolving to include works produced by non-Japanese writers and artists, though the genre is still totally fantasized and a very aesthetically oriented interpretation of gay romance. Yaoi is more forgiving to authors who just want to have fun with stories about beautiful boys loving each other and not worry about how realistic the situations or actions are. The plots can be totally over the top, and it’s all good!
One reason I love yaoi is because of the pretty factor…I hope it’s not too shallow of me to admit that. *g* Beautiful men are so lovely to look at, and I think the artwork really has a lot to do with defining the genre. Add to that a sweet and steamy romance, and the combination is just irresistible.
So let’s get to the other important question that your fans I’m sure want answers to. What are nice American girls doing writing yaoi M/M and other multicultural books? And what’s with the Japanese pop culture influence in some of your books like the Child’s Prey series?
Barb—We met online through a shared fondness for (obsession with?) Asian pop culture and history when we both took part in an online RPG that was total fan fiction spun off of a year-long weekly drama mixed with some real bits of history. The drama in question was NHK network’s Shinsengumi! that featured some of the most gorgeous men ever to walk across a TV screen. It also featured some situations that were begging for a yaoi spin so we spun ‘em for all they were worth and then some by adding in original characters.
The game was based on LiveJournal and we all used various Japanese actors and singers to represent the characters. When Anne and I started writing we used a private journal set up and kept on with the visual inspiration using various entertainers as our “if this was a movie” cast.
What are you currently working on both as solo writers and together?
Barb—We still have a few spin-offs from our other books to finish up if real life and art commitments ever give Ms Anne a break. Solo-wise I have a couple things in the works as well but my brain isn’t wanting to focus on any single one. However, I have been making some progress with a bigass time travel to 1864 Japan featuring both het & yaoi pairings.
Anne: I’ve got a ton of outlines sitting in my flash drive and not enough time to get them done, dang it! *pouts* But I’ve contributed some short stories to Alyson Books’ upcoming Island Boys, Best Gay Love Stories 2009, and Frat Sex 2 anthologies, which will be out later in the year. I’m also working on Strays, the next book in the Pawprints series.
I’d love to buckle down and finish up the last Dragon’s Disciple story Barb and I started some time last year, and I’ve got a couple of other collaborations in the works that I’m really looking forward to: Theolyn Boese and Luisa Prieto are two fabulous authors whose books I enjoy immensely, and I’m jazzed about writing with them. (I just have to point out that Barb, Theolyn and Luisa are extraordinarily patient for putting up with my schedule—thank you, ladies!) Deep down, I’m hoping to work on projects with all of my favourite authors one day!
I have always wanted to ask writers of M/M erotic books this question. What do you really think about when you’re writing those hot sex scenes between two guys?
Barb—speaking only for myself I think about the visual; inspiration acting the scene out in the private porn movie in my head.
Anne: LOL! I love B’s answer. *g* Me, personally? I’m usually totally engrossed in the moment, especially if I can really feel the spark between the two guys. If the scene is good, I’m right there with the characters…MmmMmmMmm.
As writers, have you figured out why we women (mainly) love M/M books but are not turned on by F/F books? I know my reason is because I love to see men being emotionally vulnerable (also, the action is really HOT, HOT, HAWT) but is this generally true of most women?
Barb—The emotional vulnerability definitely plays a part and as I said before I think part of it is also the “delightfully wicked” factor of watching two hot guys go at it because it seems so much more intense.
Anne: I’m a little weird, so I can’t speak for all ladies. *sheepish grin* I have trouble empathizing with female leads sometimes, and that’s part of what makes it hard for me to get into F/F books (or ménages or het romance). I’ve also read some discussions online that say M/M is popular because it doesn’t force a female reader to immediately identify with a character based on gender alone. I’ve also heard that M/M is hawt just because straight women love men, and two guys together are better than one. (I dunno about that, since lesbians also enjoy yaoi and gay romance.*g*)
Since you’re both female, how do you make sure that the *ahem* “man parts” and “stuff” pass muster (I’m trying to be delicate here ladies) with guys (and gals) who read your books? Do you have a beta group that you test the sex scenes on and if so, why wasn’t I invited to the party?
Barb—You can come to the party anytime! The Internet is most helpful for providing still and video “research” to make sure tab A can fit into slot B the way we want it to. Odds are if something seems a bit complicated or “can they really do that?!?” one of us has seen it done as it were.
Anne: Yes, research into these matters is a horrible chore Barb and I have to put ourselves through. NOT! *laughs*
I’m not going to ask you where you get your inspiration for your books because that is so clichéd. What I want to know is, are your heroes really fictional characters or are they available for brief liaisons?
Barb—Alas they are totally fictional even if they bear certain familiar physical traits. And to be honest there are a couple I’d be scared spitless to ever come across in real life like Shu and Sakurai. Those dudes are scary as all hell.
Anne: Yeah. O_O
How can your fans get in touch with you?
Barb—We want to hear from you!! Our email is
poisoneddragon AT dragonsdisciple.com
You can get some freebies at our website http://www.dragonsdisciple.com/
And if you scroll down a bit you can sign up for our email list on yahoogroups to get the latest info on new projects as well as advance excerpts and such.
Anne: If anyone is interested in checking out my artwork or solo stories, my deviantart page always has my most recent stuff posted: http://annecain.deviantart.com
Here are some of my personal artworks…
Legend of Hyrule
Thank you so much Anne and Barbara. This has been a lot of fun and a blast and it might just be the longest interview you may have done, ever. In any event your fans and colleagues now know more about you and your motivations than you ever wanted to reveal!! Lost Souls, Anne’s and Barbara’s latest release, is available from Samhain Publishing on July 15, 2008. My review immediately follows this interview.
And that’s a wrap.