Today I'm incredibly pleased to be bringing you an interview with Heather Domin ([livejournal.com profile] teacake421), author of the online serialized novel, Valerian's Legion: The Soldier of Raetia. Crossing the genres of historical fiction, military fiction, and gay romance, Valerian's Legion is set in Rome and Raetia in 10BC. It is, in Heather's words, "a story of destiny, honor, and redemption set against the backdrop of an Empire on the cusp of its full power--a story of blood, brotherhood, and love, inspired as much by Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden as Mary Renault and Diana Gabaldon."


For those who may not have discovered it yet, tell us a little about Valerian's Legion.

Valerian's Legion: The Soldier of Raetia is the story of Dardanus, a young man who joins a Roman legion, and Valerian, the general who reluctantly agrees to sponsor him. Since childhood Dardanus has wanted to be a soldier; now his career, his future, and his honor depend on the training he receives from the moody, reticent general. Stationed at the frontier, Dardanus comes of age through friendship, battle, and blood; but it's his relationship with Valerian that changes both men forever. The path that brought them together could be the path to a happiness neither expected--if they survive to find it.


What inspired you to write this story?

The Roman empire, particularly the Julio-Claudian era, is one of my favorite periods, but until this novel I'd never written fiction in it. When I got the idea for this story, I hesitated for a long time before getting started; even with a history background, the level of necessary research intimidated me. When you love something, you want to get it right, you know? But once I had these characters in my head, I knew I had to go for it. This story's like a smoothie of things I love--I had to write it.


Did you know from the start that this would be an epic story, or did it start as something smaller and grow?

I got the initial idea for this story on June 30, 2003–I know that because I'd been daydreaming in my History of Science class, and instead of taking notes I wrote a page of character outlines. (I still have that piece of paper, because I’m a nerd.) Up to that point I'd only written short stories, so I assumed this would be the same. I went home that day and sat with my roommate at the top of our stairs, where I jabbered at her for an hour about all the ideas I had. When I finished, she said, "You do realize this is a novel, right? This isn't a short story. This is a whole, real novel." And I laughed because that was crazy talk. But eventually I had to admit she was right. I think that was probably a second reason I waited so long before working on it in earnest--inside I knew what a wordy monster this thing would turn out to be. And I was right.


Is this your first novel?

Yes. I've written a couple things that could qualify as novellas, but this is the first time I've crossed the 100,000 word mark. And I haven't been able to write anything short since. Novels are my calling, I think.


What have been the main challenges for you in writing Valerian's Legion?

Believing I had the power to stick with it, do these characters justice, and tell their story well. I always knew the heart of the story was good, but many times I doubted my ability to get it out onto the paper and make it work. Life has a way of interrupting creativity; add to that the self-pressure of historical accuracy, then add to that the self-doubt of writing gay love without a pseudonym and making my Southern Baptist mother cry, then add to that a case of tendonitis in all my writing bits, and I've thrown myself more pity parties than I can count. Luckily I have a support system ready and willing to kick my ass as often as I need it. They helped me hang on to that part of myself that wouldn't let me quit. Because no matter what's going on or how bad my arms hurt, I still love doing this more than anything.


Taking the components either separately or as a whole, why gay historical fiction?

I think my lame smoothie analogy is the best answer I can give. If I was going to write a novel, I was going to fill it with things I love. Historical fiction is what I love reading most, so it's only natural that it's what I love writing most. I'm a cultural historian; I prefer life experiences to dates and names. To take a dead chunk of time and make it seem alive, like real people actually lived in it--that's amazing to me. To give that feeling to others through my characters is the biggest thrill I get from writing. As for why gay fiction, well, the same answer really. I love reading and writing all types of relationships, but male/male romance is a favorite, and it translated naturally to these characters. Roman sexuality was so complex, and with the dynamics of comrades in arms, coming of age, mentor and apprentice--I just thought to myself, how cool would it be to write a novel with a little adventure, a little angst, a little blood and guts, and a love story between two men that isn't an anomaly or a tragedy? So really, I didn't set out to write any particular genre; I just wrote the kind of story I'd want to read, keeping faith that someone else out there would want to read it too. Plus, I mean, come on--Roman soldiers in love? That's hot.


It certainly is! Are you working on or planning anything else at the moment?

I have two novels in development right now: one is a lighter, more traditional m/f romance set in the court of Charlemagne, and the other is a darker contemporary paranormal set in Glasgow. That one is more erotica than romance, featuring straight, gay, and bi relationships. I hope to get both stories in shape this year. I want to do more stories in the Valerian's Legion series, too.


You're giving us a lot to look forward to! What made you decide to self-publish? How has that experience been so far?

I've never submitted to a publisher or queried for an agent, and I have no plans to. When I realized I had a full novel on my hands, I started researching the publishing process, because that's what writers are conditioned to do. The more research I did, the more I observed the industry and its culture, the more I realized it was not for me. It doesn't mesh with my goals or my values, and I'm not interested in changing either. That's just my personal choice. Writing for me is not a career or a business model; it's a lifestyle. Since I'd been on the internet for years, it seemed natural to follow that road instead. Everyone can see the paradigm is shifting; I thought I'd like to be a part of that. So far I've had nothing but good feelings about my choice. I know that by doing my creativity my way, I'm doing it the right way.


I notice you're releasing under a Creative Commons license. What prompted that decision?

It correlates with my answer above. I've been poking around the internet since 1996, and it's been one of the best things ever to happen to me. The friends I've made, the community I've found, the creative talent I've been exposed to in so many different areas--I love internet culture, and I want to give back to it. I'm a fangirl and a geek; I know how well the creator/consumer relationship can work when the creator sees the consumer as more than instant cash machines. If you treat your readers like an audience rather than a gang of thieves, if you give them options and value their word of mouth, you will find your niche and thrive in it. If there's one thing fandom has taught me, it's that people will support work they enjoy, no matter how they originally got it. The goal is to get the story to the reader. Period.


Getting back to Valerian's Legion, do you have a favorite character or moment?

Oh man. I don't think I could choose! These guys have been in my head so long, it'd be like choosing which child or pet is your favorite. There's a bath scene in Act 2 that's always made me smile, and a few of the more, um, intimate scenes are quite dear to me. But if I had to choose one moment, I'd probably choose--oh wait, that's a spoiler. I guess I can't choose after all!


Ha ha--fair enough. Speaking of Act 2, I know you're getting ready to start posting it. Can you share an excerpt of what's coming up?

Dardanus is about to find out that becoming a soldier and being a soldier are two very different things. How he deals with the emotions battle releases inside him--combined with those released by Valerian--will define whether he succeeds or fails.


It was as natural as breathing, this shifting from group to entity. In an instant his world shrunk to the space between his helmet and the helmet in front of him. His contubernia surrounded him, spears held in elbows, shields bouncing against their thighs. Not a word, not a whisper; only sandals pounding the ground, shuffling armor, clinking buckles. The grass parted before them, flattened beneath them. Their breathing aligned into a single guttural grunt.

In the distance, the blast of a horn--they had been seen. Too late, Dardanus thought. His breath rattled in his helmet; sweat rolled down his neck. Too late. Can't get away--can't get away from us.


What a great note to end (or leave us hanging) on. I really like that line about the alignment of their breathing. Thanks for the preview and for talking with me today, Heather.

Thank you!




Valerian's Legion: The Soldier of Raetia updates weekly. For more, including an index of published chapters and links to historical background and other information, check the introductory post. Heather is also a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society; you can find her reviews here.
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