Today, I welcome back TJ Land to my blog! When we talked about TJ’s Midsummer Nights last month, she mentioned her upcoming release, The Captain’s Men. Sci-fi is a big leap from fairies, and I expressed my interest in seeing how TJ would approach the genre. She obliged — with an interview and an advance copy of The Captain’s Men! Thank you, TJ! I enjoyed reading The Captain’s Men and am looking forward to our interview!
TJ: Thank you Gillian! It’s lovely to talk to you again and I’m so glad you liked TCM. J
I mentioned this in an e-mail already, but I really enjoyed your style! The Captain’s Men is just really smoothly written, and the tone was flawless. But what I really liked about it was how smart the story is — and that’s not something you expect from a 20k erotic short! I’m really curious now to how The Captain’s Men came to be. Tell us about it please! What influenced you writing it? Where did the idea come from?
TJ: What a nice thing to say! Please feel free to keep plumping up my ego.
I’ve got a thing about ships. Sailing ships, ferries, icebreakers, submarines, cruise liners, you name it. Many of my favorite stories – or at least the ones that stick in my head the longest – are about ships and shipwrecks. When I first started writing The Captain’s Men, the core idea was ‘five men fall in love with their captain after being shipwrecked’ (I like to begin with a plot that I can sum up in around ten words). I planned for them to be in the navy or perhaps fishermen, and they were going to wash up on an uncharted island.
When I started writing, I realized that there were two problems with that:
- On an island, they might get rescued, or encounter people living on the island who could help them out. I wanted them to be completely cut off from the rest of humanity, with no hope at all of ever getting home.
- It would be harder for them to have all the sex I needed them to have if they were busy fighting off wildlife, foraging for nuts and berries, and building a raft. Even though they were irretrievably lost, I wanted them to be living comfortable lives, with beds and lights and lube, so that the rampant sexual antics could proceed unabated.
So I put them on a spaceship and made the story SF. Soft SF, mind. Very soft. Flaccid, even. Don’t ask me about distances or velocity or how the spaceship works. The answer is always ‘A space-wizard did it’.
After I’d made that decision, a lot of things fell into place. I figured out what Rick’s role on the ship was – originally, he was a cabin boy, which I never felt worked. Cabin boys were usually in their mid-teens or younger, and there was no way in hell I was going to write about a 15/16-year-old having sex with a 40-year-old. Ew. When the ship became a spaceship, he became the guy who grows their food.
The one thing I worried about with the change to an SF setting was making the tone too bleak. It’s a short erotic romance. I didn’t want the characters to spend thousands of words moping about never seeing Earth, their families or ANY aspect of human civilization ever again, and facing the prospect of dying alone and forgotten in the pitiless emptiness of space. Which was tricky, because I’m pretty sure that the most reasonable reaction in that scenario falls somewhere between mild panic and uncontrollable sobbing. That’s why when the story starts they’ve already been lost for four years. They’ve started to reconcile themselves to what’s happened, and the big problem now is that they’re bored and lonely.
Clearly the Captain is the focal point of the story. I was really impressed by how clearly you brought across his forceful personality. I was also struck by how you let his thoughts and actions dominate a large part of the narrative, but were still able to surprise us. I know I would struggle pulling off a character like him, but you do it so well, that it did not surprise me that in four years of isolation from humanity and no idea where they were, the Captain was still able to impress his crew with his authority. How did you do this?
TJ: As is the case in Midsummer Nights, I am forced to acknowledge a debt to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (the fact that I get so much inspiration for my filthy pornography from a children’s book is a problem, isn’t it?) The captain in TCM is an amalgamation of several captains from various trunked stories I’ve written in the past, all of whom were ultimately derived from Captain James Hook.
Ah, Hook. In the words of Jon Stewart: I so love this man. In my opinion, Hook is one of the best villains ever written – ‘not wholly unheroic’, and with just a hint of tragedy to him. There he is, stuck on his ship, the most reviled person in this perilous magical land, hunted by a crocodile and at war with an immortal child who’s already taken his hand (and in unrequited love with Smee).
And he’s such a pretentious wanker. Look at what Barrie tells us about him:
This inscrutable man never felt more alone than when surrounded by his dogs. They were socially so inferior to him.
The ‘dogs’ are his crew. As to how he treats them:
…even in their sleep they rolled skillfully to this side or that out of Hook’s reach, lest he should claw them mechanically in passing.
To be fair, Hook’s crew are almost all murderous, selfish, and mutinous. But there’s one scene I’ve always loved. Hook hears the crocodile approaching the ship and freaks out:
Even the iron claw hung inactive; as if knowing that it was no intrinsic part of what the attacking force wanted. Left so fearfully alone, any other man would have lain with his eyes shut where he fell: but the gigantic brain of Hook was still working, and under its guidance he crawled on his knees along the deck as far from the sound as he could go. The pirates respectfully cleared a passage for him, and it was only when he brought up against the bulwarks that he spoke.
‘Hide me,’ he cried hoarsely.
They gathered round him; all eyes averted from the thing that was coming aboard. They had no thought of fighting it. It was Fate.
Yeah, when it comes to it Hook’s men are basically useless (and they get taken out by children in the climatic battle). Here’s the thing, though: they don’t just throw Hook to the crocodile and be done with it. They don’t mock him or pity him for being frightened either, or even look askance at his reaction. Their captain’s got a problem with crocodiles; they get it. And they hide him when he asks them to, because he’s their leader, even if he is a complete bastard most of the time.
Reading this scene again a few months ago, I started to toy with the idea of a lost crew with an impressive yet fallible leader, and what would happen if I injected sex into that set-up. My captain isn’t just Hook in an SF setting, though; he’s not a villain, he’s not as cruel, and while he doesn’t like having his authority questioned, he doesn’t think he deserves to be in charge because he’s their social superior. He thinks he deserves to be in charge because it never occurs to him that he shouldn’t be. Taking charge is what he does. Which becomes a problem when it comes to Zachery and Antoine, both men who are instinctively inclined to challenge authority.
Of course, the aspect of the captain’s personality that gets the most focus in this story is how much he likes sex. All the best fictional captains have an obsession. Hook has his crocodile. Ahab has his whale. Nemo has his crusade against imperialism. My captain? Sex. He loves sex. And cuddling, and relationships, and all that jazz. But at the time the story starts, he’s not allowed himself any of that for four years. Then, one day, his boot laces snap…
You did a great job of characterizing the Captain’s men — Thomas, Rick and Zachery are all very different in personality type, background and even sexuality. However, what really interested me is how different the nature of their mutual attraction to the Captain is. You did an amazing job of bringing that out, which makes me suspect you’ve put a lot of thought into the psychology of these characters. Am I right?
TJ: Again, thank you. J
One of the things I most look forward to when writing poly romance is getting a lot of different temperaments and sexual preferences into the mix. There’s gay, ace, and bi characters in this story, and beyond that, they all have different ideas about what constitutes good sex, what their roles and responsibilities are in bed, and how closely sex is connected to love and romance. The captain acts as a… what’s the word? Yardstick? Barometer? He enjoys almost any kind of intimacy at all. Rough, tender, chaste, slow and sensual, quick and dirty, in a bed, on the floor, in the vegetable garden, he’s up for it. Because of that flexibility, he’s a useful tool for exploring what preferences and boundaries his men have.
So although this is a poly romance, all the sex scenes involve two people until the very end – the captain and Thomas, the captain and Rick, the captain and Zachery, etc. In the sequels, I’m going to examine the way Zachery feels about Thomas, how Rick feels about having more than one lover, and all the rest of it. This first installment is the story of how the captain brings them together. I wanted to showcase their personalities as individuals before going on to the more complicated aspects of poly relationships.
Regarding their personalities; one of the reasons they’re all so different is because they come from such different backgrounds. The captain recruited them from all over the solar system; some of them had wealthy families on Earth, some of them were in jail on Mars, some of them had spent their whole lives in space. And their origins have an impact on what they’re into and how much/what kind of sex they’ve had in the past. Zachery likes violence and always tops. Rick’s never been with a man before. Thomas is self-conscious about his body. And the captain – whose origins, like Hook’s, are largely mysterious – likes anything.
I left out one of the Captain’s men in the above question, because he really deserves a paragraph all of his own — Echo. In our previous interview you mentioned that ‘you enjoy and write stories featuring disabled characters, particularly neurodiverse characters.’ Does this include Echo?
TJ: Yeah, I envision Echo as autistic, or a cousin (term used in the autistic community to refer to people who don’t identify as autistic but aren’t neurotypical either, and share traits, experiences, and disabilities with autistic people). As far as the rest of the crew is concerned, though, he’s just a weirdo. He doesn’t communicate through speech, he doesn’t like porn or card games or any of the things they like, he’s antisocial, and he’s averse to being touched in any way without explicitly stated consent (something he shares with me). They don’t dislike him; most of them don’t know what to make of him yet, and some of them bluntly admit to finding him unnerving. Which hurts his feelings a tad.
Generally speaking, sex is more complicated for Echo than it is for the rest of them. He’s one of the captain’s men, but he was never going to be prepared to jump into bed with the other three at the drop of a hat. That said, in some ways he’s got a better grip on his preferences than they do; he knows that he doesn’t know what he wants.
Although he’s the most ‘obvious’ one, there are other members of the crew who could be categorized as some variety of ND. It’s not something that gets much attention in this installment, but it might come up later.
At the end of the story, the characters are faced with an event that is going to mean major changes for everyone of the ship. Echo, with his strict schedules and fixation on time, is, I imagine, going to have a particularly difficult time. I — okay, fine. I’m worried about him. Is he going to be okay?
TJ: Echo’s tougher than he looks, don’t worry. In fact, he might be one of the most resilient people on board. See, he grew up on the Moon. In the timeline this story is set in, the Moon is regarded as the worst place to live in the solar system – high levels of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, and infant mortality. Not a great place for an orphan to grow up. Echo made it out alive for two reasons. Firstly, even though he’s not half as physically powerful as, say, Zachery, he can take a lot of punishment. Secondly, he’s an excellent judge of character. If he pegs someone for a threat he gets out of there fast, which makes it hard for people to take advantage of him. The flip side is that as soon as he decides he loves someone, he’ll stick to them limpet-style for as long as he’s allowed. He’s been limpeting onto the captain since long before the rest of the crew signed up (well, except for one of them).
Another thing Echo’s got in his favor is that unlike the others, he didn’t leave anything behind; no family, no friends, no dreams. Everything and everyone he cares about is on The Prayer. Which is not to say he’s not suffering. He’s a cook who hasn’t had any fresh ingredients to work with in four years. But he’s hanging in there. He does like his routines, though, and he HATES going outdoors; got a touch of agoraphobia. So that’s going to be a challenge in the stories to come.
I think the one to worry about is Rick, actually. The ship’s youngest crewmate has a lot to cope with in the next story.
(POTENTIAL SPOILER) The other character I’m worried about is Antoine. As second in command and the only member of the crew to share some of the Captain’s history, I imagine that he’s been accustomed to having a fair amount of the Captain’s time and attention – time and attention that has been challenged by the Captain’s new relationships. Is their attitude towards each other going to be challenged by the new developments of the story?
TJ: Antoine likes the captain’s attention the way normal people like air, this is true. However, he’s also got an ego the size of a quasar, bless him. He’s not worried that Thomas, Rick, or Zachery are going to take the captain away from him, simply because… to be honest, at this stage he’s viewing them the way he would if the captain had adopted several stray cats. ‘Oh, did you have to? Where will we keep them? Ugh, that one’s got mange. Well, if it makes you happy. You’re dealing with their litter, I hope you realize that.’
What thing from Earth (or Mars) does each character miss the most?
TJ: Thomas – his friends
Rick – his mom
Zachery – beer and the sky
Echo – fresh baking ingredients
Antoine – lecturing at the University of Paris
The captain – living within walking distance of the liquor store, the pharmacy, and his favorite sex shop
What are your sci-fi influences? Antoine makes a Star Wars reference, and the crew’s predicament is vaguely Red Dwarf like, so I’m curious! Feel free to add any sci-fi reading or watching recommendations!
TJ: Star Trek is probably the main one. In terms of the plot, The Captain’s Men is closest to Star Trek: Voyager, which also happens to be my least favorite Trek-related thing barring that Cucumberbatch debacle. There was so much potential there and they completely. Ruined. It. *seethe*
Otherwise, Guardians of the Galaxy does pretty well with the ‘crew of misfits and losers’ plot (although I think I would have enjoyed it more as a series than a film). Tbh I cared far less about Peter Quill than Captain Yondu Udonta. (He’s blue! He collects dolls! He murders people by whistling at them! All my love, seriously.) In terms of SF anime, Cowboy Bebop and Gurren Lagann are great. Oh, and recently I’ve gotten into Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40K stories.
A commonality between most of these shows and movies is that they don’t treat women well. That’s something that I worry about in relation to TCM. There are four women on board The Prayer and because the majority of the story is taken up by prolonged sex scenes between men, they don’t do much. Need to work on that.
This isn’t a question so much as a comment, but I pretty much knew I was going to like this story from the moment the word ‘mandibles’ showed up. It’s a great word! It doesn’t get used enough! And then you referenced Lysistrata, which made me incredibly happy.
TJ: Mandibles are amazing! I don’t know why everyone wants the future to give us jetpacks and hoverboards and shit. We should be holding out for fucking mandibles.
The aliens those mandibles belong to don’t feature much in TCM. They’re a plot device; I couldn’t think of how else to get the ship so far from Earth so quickly. My grasp of mathematics and science is piss-weak at the best of times but even I know that you can’t get to another galaxy in fours years without magic. Hence, magic aliens.
The captain’s copy of Lysistrata was a way of creating a bit more distance between himself and the rest of the crew. He likes old things, classical literature and antiques and The Prayer herself. He studied ancient Greek in his youth. Also, it has to be said, he’s older than everyone else on board; a lot older, in some cases.
And yeah, Lysistrata’s inclusion is also a silly joke. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a nifty little play by Aristophanes about the women of Greece trying to bring the Peloponnesian War to an end by refusing to have sex with the men of Greece until they make peace with their enemies. I thought it would be funny for a gay man who’s (SPOILER) in love with an ace man to have his favorite play be a story that runs on heterosexism.
March seems like it’s going to be incredibly busy — in addition to The Captain’s Men, you’ve got Midsummer Sky and Midsummer Court on the horizon, and the sequel to The Captain’s Men. Is that all you have coming up? And how on earth do you stay organized with so much going on?
TJ: I don’t. 😀
One thing that helps me keep track is the efficient and comprehensive editing provided by the lovely folk at Ninestar Press. Raevyn McCann caught a lot of problems in this story that had escaped my notice. *blows kisses to Raevyn* Also, I do no social media stuff, which makes my schedule less taxing than would otherwise be the case.
The Captain’s Encounter, a sequel to The Captain’s Men, is coming out on April 11, featuring aliens and sexy men in Kevlar. I’m also working on a third story in the Adrift series. I like this universe. I like these characters. I think I’d like to do more with them. Not going to say more than that at this point, because often when I talk about my ideas for stories I lost the ability to write them.
Thanks again for stopping by to be interviewed and for sharing The Captain’s Men with me! I hope you can tell how much I enjoyed it. All the best TJ, and hopefully you’ll be stopping by again soon!
TJ: It was great to chat with you, Gillian. Thanks for having me! J