Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Lee Hayes

September 9, 2006 Print version       Other articles by this author

This month, we at Brave Soul Collective decided to highlight a brilliant brother whose literary works have firmly established him as one of today's most talented black gay authors. Hayes first novel "Passion Marks" tackled domestic violence within gay relationships, an issue which is rarely, if ever discussed. However, what Hayes was also able to do with his first novel was to create a piece of work that transcends all barriers of sex, class, and race. His second novel "Passion Marks II: A Deeper Blue" was released earlier this year, and judging from the responses of his readers, does not disappoint.
Although I am [HIV] negative, I know I am negative only because of the grace of GOD because I'm not perfect and have not always practiced safe sex. So, let us all take better care of ourselves.

Lee is a native Texan who graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in sociology. He recently completed his Master of Public Administration degree from Baruch College, City University of New York. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. As fate would have it, because it is indeed a small world after all, many friends and associates of ours at Brave Soul Collective are also friends with Lee. When we contacted him about being a featured artist, he kindly accepted our offer to be showcased. What you will find below is our candid discussion with this talented young man, not only about his work as an author, but his feelings about HIV/AIDS, being an artist, and life as a same gender loving man.

We hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we enjoyed conducting it. Introducing...LEE HAYES.

Your first book Passion Marks tackled an issue that we don't hear about everyday-domestic violence within gay male relationships. What was your motivation for making this the subject of your first novel? Was any of the work drawn from personal experience?

I think domestic violence is an issue that is rarely, if ever, discussed among gay black men. I became fascinated and intrigued with the subject when I studied it as sociology major as an undergraduate. I decided to write about it simply because I wanted to provide a context in which it made sense to me. At the time, I didn't know of anyone who had been victimized nor is it my personal story, but truth be told, it could be the story of any one of us. And, I wanted to create a provocative story that dealt with a subject that had garnered little attention. I wanted to entertain, as well as educate.

The story is not about me. In fact, I'd say 95% of it is fiction, but there are folks out there who think it is my story and victims of abuse have told me that there is no way I could have written the book without having lived it - that is probably the highest compliment I could receive!

On some level, I think it would make a more interesting conversation (and probably sell more books) if I told people that it is my personal story, but I believe the truth does, matter. If it were my story, trust me, I'd tell the world.

As a writer, what is your process? To be more specific, how do you go about creating characters from different perspectives other than your own? For example, creating the lives, words, and thoughts of a heterosexual female- how do you go about writing from this perspective?

I don't really have a process. I start with an idea of something I want to write about or accomplish and I start created people, places, spaces and events in my head. When I sit down to write, I have a very general map, but I usually sit and let the spirit move me. Whatever comes out, comes out. Of course, I go back and re-write and edit from time-to-time. As I'm writing, I pay close attention to words, sentence structure and plot. I keep asking myself "is this interesting or compelling? Is this information I'm putting in useful to the plot and does it move the story along?"

In order to write from the perspective of another gender, race, class, etc, you have to BECOME that character. As a writer, I'm always concerned about the authenticity of what I create. I believe the dialogue and the action of each character has to be true and real for that character, so I pay particular attention to character development. One of the biggest compliments I receive from folks is that they feel the dialogue is "real" and the many of the conversations in the book are conversations they have with their friends.

What was the publishing process like for you? Did you ever consider self-publishing? What are some of the challenges you've faced with regard to publishing?
The publishing process is a BEAST! I would use another "B" word, but I'll refrain...LOL. I did self-publishing "Passion Marks" Summer 2002 until I was picked up by my current publisher.

Initially, when I sought a publisher, I knew that I wanted to place the book with a smaller, black press - I just thought I'd be more comfortable there. When I sent query letters and the first three chapters to a few publishing houses most responded favorably, eventually asking for the entire manuscript. But, in the end, I got the message that "we really like your work, but we have to be careful in what we publish." That's a politically correct way of saying, "we ain't publishing yo gay shit." So, the process can be very disheartening, particularly when you're a black gay author writing about the black gay writing experience.

In September of 2002, I was lucky to connect with the writer ZANE, who does black erotica for women. She mentioned that she had formed a company with Simon & Schuster, which is one of the largest publishing houses in the country. I sent her my work, she loved it and signed me. I was the first gay black male writer on her label.

Relationships between black gay men can be pretty complicated and dynamic. Do you feel a responsibility as a black gay man to continue to tell our stories, or are you just focused on writing about whatever comes up for you?

Hmmmmm, I think I feel a little of both. On one hand, I don't want to be pigeon-holed and have people think I can only write about gay experiences. I am so much more than gay. But, on the other hand, I delight in telling our stories. I think whatever I write in the future will have at least one gay character, but that doesn't mean the gay character will always be the lead. At the end of the day, as much as I love what I do, this is a business and I want to be able to make a living exclusively from writing and I know the gay black male book buying public is not large enough or they don't invest enough in books to make that a reality for me. My 3rd book, entitled, "The Messiah" comes out in July 2007 and the characters are mainly gay. So for the foreseeable future, I have gay characters, but who knows what tomorrow brings?

Many of your readers (me included) attest to reading your books over the course of a couple days, mainly because they tend to be SO action packed and drama filled. Are there any plans to actually bring "Passion Marks" or "A Deeper Blue" to the silver screen?

YES! I'm working on the screenplay to "Passion Marks". I've had a pretty big time movie producer inquire to ZANE whether or not I had the screenplay done because she'd like to see it when it's done. So, I speaking it into existence, "Passion Marks", the movie will come to pass! Can you imagine that novel on screen? We have NEVER seen anything like it and I look forward to making it happen!

What can readers expect from your next novel? Will you round out the Passion Marks series as a trilogy or are you headed in a different direction altogether?

Nah, I'm pretty much done with the characters from "Passion Marks". "The Messiah" is about something completely different, although people have fallen in love with Kevin and Daryl from my first two books. The way "A Deeper Blue" ended folks think I left it open so that I could revisit them later. In fact, I get a lot of emails from folks asking me to write about them again. Well, BLUE ended the way it did because that's the way it had to end. I don't want to give too much away for folks who haven't read it, but I'll just say there isn't a fairy tale ending.

How has the HIV/AIDS pandemic influenced and or affected your work as an author, as well as a same gender loving black man?

Wow...now, that's a question I wasn't expecting. I think we have all been affected by HIV/AIDS on some level. I look around this world and my community and I can see the affects of this disease. Many folks are no longer with us and others battle the disease everyday.

I finished graduate school on July 29, 2005, in New York City. I got a call a couple of days later from one of my very good friends. He told me he was in the hospital - again. When I returned to D.C. days later, I went to see him in the hospital and he was not in a very good physical, mental or financial state. He was now battling full-blown AIDS. He had no insurance, no job, no money and no place to live. But, he had me. When he was released, he came to live with me and for the next four months, he was in and out of the hospital and I was one of the only people there for him. While he lived with me, I took him to the doctor and the pharmacist and the Social Security Administration and back to the hospital many, many times. I cooked for him and tried to do all that I could. Never, in my wildest imagination did I expect him to die. I have known people who were down but came back and are now living full lives. But, my friend wasn't so lucky.

"A Deeper Blue" has a strong and what some would term as a "negative" depiction of HIV/AIDS. I have friends who are positive who took issue with the way I portrayed the disease. My intent was to make people understand that AIDS is real and people in this country do still die from it. I don't want anyone else becoming positive. Out of 20 good friends I've had since I "came out" in 1994, I'd say 15 of them are positive. I want folks to understand that they need to protect themselves EVERY TIME and to never put their lives and health in someone else's hands. When they are thinking about having unprotected sex, I want them to look at the person and ask themselves, "am I willing to die for him?"

Trust me, I have no judgments against HIV positive people, so my depiction of it in the book was not meant to offend, but meant to alarm. Although I am negative, I know I am negative only because of the grace of GOD because I'm not perfect and have not always practiced safe sex. So, let us all take better care of ourselves.

What does it mean to you to be an artist? Do you have any other artistic interests besides writing that you'd like to develop?

Hmmmmm....like Erykah Badu said, "keep in mind I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my shit."...LOL Actually, I'm not that sensitive - anymore...LOL You have to have a thick skin to be an artist. Being an artist means to create a definitive work. I think "Passion Marks" could not have been done or told by someone else. "A Deeper Blue" is a powerful and passionate story full of life lessons. To be an artist means to breathe life into something and to set if free.

I'd like to write for TV and movies. Most black shows on TV are so poorly written that it makes me gag...LOL.

Please name one artist, (living or deceased) that you'd be interested in having a conversation with and possibly writing a biography about, and please explain why you chose that person.

I'd love to have a conversation with James Baldwin because he was a pioneer. He wrote about things folks dared not in a day and age when his subject matter was taboo. He broke from America and lived in Europe to enjoy the life and to live in his truth and I would love to talk to him about his creative process and his life. He was not just a writer, he was THE writer.

For more information on Lee Hayes, visit http://www.passionmarks.moonfruit.com/