September 22, 2013
Trix and Katherine pinged back with writing tips, which is awesome, and I may try the headphones, especially when I am working on the treadmill desk, which is not nearly as quiet as when I bought it.
I’d like to introduce Jack Azzuri. He has his own tidy parcel of baggage to work through. The most apparent characteristic, aside from a body that must have been sculpted by the ancient Greeks (love handles and all), is his legendary, explosive temper. Wyatt never expected to meet him when he broke into his apartment. All this is laid out front-and-center in the first chapter, which you can read in the sample of DSP’s website. Here is a little detail of Wyatt’s first up-close encounter with the man who would haunt his thoughts forevermore:
ELEVEN o’clock could never come soon enough as the far-away wall safe kept crooning its siren song. I barely resisted biting my nails. My microwave clock showed I still had ten minutes to go before departure when, impatient, I pulled on my lightweight, dark green jacket and a baseball cap, hoisted my black backpack, and headed out the door. I walked, using the next twenty minutes to calm down and control my adrenaline levels. I still could back out. I didn’t have to go through with it. The idea died young: it was like paying the entry fee to a public swimming pool and then talking myself out of getting into the water. There was no way I wasn’t getting inside that apartment tonight.
Two blocks away from Azurri’s apartment, I ducked inside an entryway and stuffed my jacket and baseball cap inside the bag. I caught my hair up in my black skullcap, hiding every single strand by feel alone. The black hood of my sweatshirt covered my head as I continued to my target area.
The windows in the corner of the third floor were dark. I dialed the number on my cell phone anyway, but nobody picked up. I sucked in a deep breath.
Shit. I was really going in. I did my phone-check routine, making sure it was on vibrate and the camera flash was off. I also set it on redial, just in case someone was home and I had to distract them—even though that never happened. As a last step, I covered the phone’s screen with three strips of electrical tape. That way, if I had to use it in the dark, I wouldn’t make a target out of myself.
The service entrance in the alley wasn’t equipped with an alarm, and the lock wasn’t hard. Somebody must have miscalculated, thinking there was no point protecting a self-closing door next to a Dumpster. I slipped in like a shadow and took the service elevator all the way up. There was a narrow staircase from the fifth floor to the roof. I took it to an unlocked door. It creaked only a little as I pushed it open, but even that little sound almost made my heart stop. I scanned the flat, asphalt roof and the vents and chimneys to my left. The edge of the roof was to my right. Working fast, I reached inside my backpack and slipped a climbing harness over my black cargo fatigues. I slid my silenced phone into a secure side pocket. The other pocket held my flashlight. I pulled a coil of climbing rope out of the backpack and fastened it to a sturdy chimney. Before I knew it, my feet were anchored on the rim of the ledge and, with the rope wound behind my butt and through my self-belay device, I leaned back over the abyss.
I grinned as the thrill of being suspended over a street threatened to overcome my senses— alone in the dark, unseen. Slowly, I slipped my soft black shoes down the side of the building in careful steps as I fed extra rope through my harness. The soles of my feet felt every contour of the vines and flowers carved into the acid-rain roughened stone, giving me extra purchase. I descended past the glowing fifth- floor window and the dark fourth-floor window, and I had just started to breathe a bit harder when, finally, the third-floor window appeared. I stood on the generous parapet and unclipped myself and let the rope hang by my side. Slowly, I pushed in the glass panes.
Lights from the streets illuminated the Spartan bedroom interior as I slipped in, landing in a crouch. The white carpet gleamed pale amber, reflecting the sodium lamps outside. I look around and froze.
The bed was occupied.
At this point, I should have climbed out the window and back up the building and gotten out of there. Yet I stood here, conflicted between running away and getting a little closer. The bed’s owner was sprawled naked on his back, his head and shoulders shrouded by the shadows. The stark city glow, barely impeded by sheer curtains, accentuated the shady contours of his trim abdomen and his well- muscled legs. I stopped in my tracks, feeling as though a Grecian marble statue from a nearby museum had been placed on this stranger’s bed, displayed for my eyes to feast upon. He was incredible, beautiful in the unearthly glow, and I felt like a lost man, captivated by the sight of his physical beauty. Even if I weren’t into guys, I think I would have gotten hard.
He stirred. I broke from my stunned reverie and looked around fast. The dark corner of the room to my left was my only hope, and then I realized a closet was there, with its door cracked open. I ducked into the shadows, moving fast. I blessed my luck and slipped inside, not making a sound. My breathing came in short, shallow breaths, and my heartbeat felt like a drum against the wall of my chest. I fought to maintain absolute silence. I heard Jack Azurri stir. His bed creaked. Then there was the soft patter of his feet, almost muffled by his lush carpet.
I hope he won’t kill me on sight.
::I swear I’ll never do this again.::
I heard him piss in the bathroom next to me, and I breathed a deep, silent sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to voice any rash oaths just yet.
He flushed and washed his hands.
More footsteps, this time in my direction. Once again I began to negotiate with the powers that be.
“Fuck, it’s hot.” The low, sexy growl shot an arrow of heat down my spine.
I heard him draw the curtains aside and open the window even wider. The heavy evening air stirred, and even more light poured in from the street.
My heart sang in relief.
The mattress creaked as he got back in bed. So far so good. I’d have to wait until he was asleep before I could make my exit out the window, which he, being such a considerate gentleman, had opened even wider for my convenience. I didn’t dare attempt cracking the safe with him there. In fact, I barely dared to breathe. I waited, wondering why the hell he wasn’t on a vacation like he should have been.
Light snoring reached my ears, and I pushed the closet door to the side a little more, just enough to get out comfortably. With painful slowness I peeked around the wooden panel.
There he was, now fully lit by the dramatic glow from outside, legs spread apart, sporting a significant boner. You would think I would be no stranger to that part of male anatomy, but being single, it had been a while since I had seen a full-grown specimen. Also, I had never seen one from someone’s closet while hiding in there, trying to avoid detection. This situation had all levels of awkward written all over it, and as my mouth went dry, I felt a hot blush rise up to my cheeks. All the same, I wasn’t quite willing to look away.
Oh Wyatt… you have no couth! I do have couth, though. I even have a discount coupon. Use the “PavelleBlog” discount code to receive 25% off any of my titles, as well as any mystery-suspense titles from Dreamspinner Press. This coupon is good for the next 2 days!
Drop me a line and visit so I can enter your name in a free e-book drawing (Zipper Fall or Wild horses, your choice!)
September 22, 2013
I get asked about how I write. People who ask me about writing don’t realize that writing is, mostly, about not procrastinating. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, WordPress, Tumblr, plus any excuse for online research, can send me off course and into the time-sink of browsing to “see who is there.” On a typical day, I wake up at 5:45, respond to email, clear the dishwasher while the coffee is brewing, fix lunches, and put up a load of laundry. Once I walk my daughter to the bus stop and take the dog around the neighborhood, I am ready to write. In order to do that, I push the power button on our WiFi antenna. Yes, I really do. It keeps my word count up and my needless visits to “see who is there” down to zero.
I am an Organic Writer, which means that creating an outline is a sure way to lose interest in the story. After all, I already know what happened, right? So, why bother writing it out? Sometimes, when I am plagued by distracting and unrelated story lines that pop into my mind, I outline them. It’s the surest way to banish them forever. I have the WiFi turned off for 4 hours in the morning, which usually results in 3-5 thousand words. I take a break every 45 minutes to an hour (switch the laundry, water the plants, feed the koi) to move my body around. After lunch, my writing time will be over for the day, and I’ll need to apply myself to business activities that keep the lights on and the WiFi service turned on. In general, I feel very blessed to be able to do this.
And now, I have a question for you. If you do write, what is your favorite trick to keep distractions to a minimum? Respond, and I’ll enter your name into a drawing for a free copy of Wild Horses or Zipper Fall (Your choice!)
September 22, 2013
I am online and blogging about Zipper Fall, the 2nd book of the Steel City Series. It can be read as a stand-alone, but if you read the no. 1 book of the series, Wild Horses, you will recognize several characters and landmarks.
I’ve been asked if I climb. Wyatt Gaudens, my POV character, is a climber who misuses his skills for burglary. I do climb a bit, and I was inspired to try it to get over my fear of heights (my wild, adventuring characters do all kinds of things I’d love to be able to do – I live through them vicariously!). I can climb up a wall and rapell down, and I love to boulder when outside. Wyatt is a natural where I am a struggling coward. So now some of you will ask, wait, do you also pick locks?
I tried, using lock picks I bought online. It’s hard, but doable. I watched people pick locks and crack safes, and both activities require patience, a steady hand, and a special touch that seems to come to some people naturally. I’ve never picked a lock that didn’t belong to me, although I’d lie if I claimed that no locks were harmed in the making of this book
To get more familiar with Wyatt’s mindset, I am going to share a brief excerpt. Our poor, flawed, adrenaline-addicted hero just needs a better source of excitement in his life:
Life can be incredibly boring at times, and in order to make it worth living, I need a bit of zing to spice up my dull routine. I’ve always been like that, and besides, I have always been able to talk my way out of anything. My mother used to say I’d make her go prematurely gray with my wild skateboarding antics. After a while, skateboarding wasn’t enough, and I started rock climbing. Small risks turned to bigger risks, except I didn’t want to endanger my climbing buddies by doing something really crazy on the rock face. Instead, I discovered the thrill of occasional and strictly recreational break-ins. Two years ago, I took my first souvenir. I knew it would be missed, which made the experience even more thrilling. Heightening the risk heightened the excitement. Last year, I wore a distinctive ring for a few days. I got away with it, which was almost disappointing, because it was a Superbowl ring. I ended up wiping my prints off and sending it to the local TV station, and its return made the news because anything having to do with the Steelers makes the news. I rode that high for almost a whole month.
I have a question for you: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in search of YOUR adrenaline high? Log in to www.dreamspinner.com/blog so I can see your answer!
September 22, 2013
Hi everyone, Kate Pavelle here. I hope you can stop by for a launch party for “Zipper Fall,” the 2nd book in the Steel City Series. I’ll be online from noon till dinner today, and will check in after dinner for a bit. There will be excerpts, give-aways, and questions both asked and answered! This is a new thing for me.
I hope you can stop by! Just use the following address: http://dreamspinnerpress.com/blog
See in after lunch!
September 13, 2013
All right, one last post on a really tough issue before we call it a night.
In general I don’t go in much for non-con or rape fantasies.
I will admit though every once in a while I like indulging in the fantasy of sexual slavery. There is something about having total control over a person, being able to bend them to your will and take what you want without care for their feelings or their desires that can tap into the very darkest parts of my sexual appetite when played out in the safety of my mind or on the pages of a good piece of erotica.
As a historian though I am all too aware of the real world history and cost of slavery. Owning humans as chattels degrades not just the people who are held in bondage but also the ones who hold them. A society which allows slavery is a society which will allow for a certain level of cruelty to be normalized. For in a society where it is acceptable to buy and sell humans like cattle it also often becomes acceptable to abuse, maim and murder them as well.
As Ira Berlin states “In saves societies by contrast, slavery stood at the center of economic production, and the master-slave relationship provided the model for all social relations: husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, teacher and student.” This is a chilling world view but it does highlight the ways in which the mindset that allowed one man to own another outright affected everyone within that society.
During the editing process my editor mention that several of the characters are referred to as “good master” even though they do thing we would see as terrible or abuse. They have slaves beaten, solid off to people who will abuse them further and subject their slaves to a thousand tiny acts of degradation daily.
This was very intentional on my part because in the grand scheme of things these characters are “good masters” but they are still people who see nothing morally wrong with owning other human beings and treating them like objects.
It is easy to condemn the beating, mutilation and forced rape of slaves. I think though the fact that Vasilios has to go to his knees every time he enters a room and cannot make eye contact with his “betters” and this is seen as so normal that no one questions it, is more indicative of the kind of damage slavery does to a society at large.
The elephant in the room while writing about Vasilios’ time in captivity is rape. Slaves are not capable of consent. They can not say no especially to their masters but to any free person. For a slave to say know would be to risk severe punishment and would go totally disregarded anyway. A table does not consent, a horse does not consent and in a slave holding society slaves have no more right to consent than a table or a horse.
One of the things that was important to me while writing Like Fire Through Bone was to portray slavery as corrupting and degrading as it historically was and still is.
Vasilios has had sexual encounters with his master but I want to be clear that he in no way consented to them. He submitted to them out of a sense of self preservation and because he knew as owned property he could not say no to his master’s demands.
Further he and Markos can not further any kind of relationship with each other as long as Vasilios is held as a slave. As Markos points out if they were to become involved romantically or sexually before that neither could be completely sure that where wouldn’t be cohesion involved at some level. Markos is an extremely powerful man and business partner to Vasilios’ master. For Vasilios as a slave it would be almost impossible for him to say no to Markos if Markos where to make a pass at him and Markos knows this.
Stories that deal with slaves are a huge part of the romance genre but often these stories do not deal directly with issues like a slaves inability to consent. On the other hand the fantasy of sexual slavery is a potent one. Going into writing Like Fire Through Bone though I wanted to do something more realistic.
So what do you think? Do you prefer a more historically accurate portrayal of slavery? Or do you like like the fantasy better, where the pretty slave falls for his sexy master? Why or why not?
September 13, 2013
I was originally going to talk about music but I can’t figure out how to embed the media player so let’s talk about cover art first.
I’ll admit it, I totally judge books by their covers.
As a reader browsing through a brick and mortar bookstore I am far more likely to grab a book that has an exciting or beautiful cover. As a die hard fantasy and science fiction fan I’m going to be drawn to cover to portray something new and fresh from the genre. A cover with bulky space Marines isn’t going to attract my attention the same way a cover depicting a character walking the streets of a futuristic Delhi would.
When it comes to romance novels I’m just as picky. I’m not a fan of covers which show over developed pectoral muscles as their primarily attraction since they are a dime a dozen in the m/m romance genre. I am much more likely to be attracted to interesting covers even if they are not “sexy” per say. In fact a cover which doesn’t immediately scream “romance” to me is going to be more attractive because it will grab my attention and making me at least read the blurb.
Unless I know the author or have had the book recommended to me the cover art may indeed make or break my decision to buy the book. I know this about myself therefore I take the designing of the covers for my own book very seriously.
Working with a new publisher and new set of cover artists is always a little nerve wracking and the cover art is such an important part of the process that when I sent off my survey form for the cover art of Like Fire Through Bone I was mostly just anxious about how it was going to turn out.
I tried to give as much details about each of the characters as possible along with the over all feeling I was going for.
I really wanted to cover to emphasize the plot and tone of the book over the sex appeal of the characters.
It’s not that Like Fire Through Bone isn’t a sexy book because I think there is great chemistry between Vasilios and Markos and multiple hot sex scenes. On the other hand though the book is not all about the romance as much as it is about combining plot with romance I wanted a cover to reflect that.
What I got back from the talented Brooke Albrecht was four different but equally lovely covers. Two of them really jumped out at me though. In one I loved the cover model and felt like he was closest to my mental picture of Vasilios. The other I was totally in love with the color scene and lettering.
I asked if they could be combined and the cover that resulted was the one we went with. I love it. I think it is a beautiful cover.
That made me so happy for all sorts of reasons.
So what do people think? What role does the cover art play in your decision whether to buy a book? What kinds of things do you love or hate to see on covers of m/m romance book?
September 13, 2013
I am E.E. Ottoman and I am here to talk about Like Fire Through Bone cones out on Friday 13th, today! I am so excited about this release party which will be going all day and include an awesome coupon code for 25% off all Angel and Demon stories at Dreamspinner somewhere along the way.
First let me introduce myself. I am a graduate student in my late twenties, studying history and living in the greater New York City area. I am a cat lover and an avid home cook. I love menswear and fashion and try to dress as fashionably as possible. I adore all things history, am a big opera fan and love reading mythology. My idea of a perfect day out is a trip to a great museum or art gallery followed by a stunning meal. I am definitely a fantasy author and I love relationships between people and portraying them in all different varieties so romance is an incredibly exciting genre for me.
But enough about me, let’s talk about the book:
Like Fire Through Bone is my first full length novel, although I have written multiple short stories and novellas before this. This is also my first book working with Dreamspinner Press.
When I set out to write it I didn’t set out to write a full length novel. In fact I was aiming for 30,000 words.
I originally had something of a Byzantine/Roman Empire world in mind. I wanted to write a short fantasy adventure story so I came up with a demon who had been terrorizing the capital city stealing away children in the night. The demon was based on old Christian folklore from the Middle East. I came up with two main character Vasilios was a household eunuch who held a kind of secretarial position for a wealthy merchant and Markos who was a General in the Imperial Army.
My original plot outline was simple, they were going to exorcise the demon and then get together as a couple.
I knew Vasilios would have prophetic dreams about the demon and I assumed as soon as he went to Markos with the that information the story would pretty much wrap itself up.
Except it didn’t work like that.
As soon as I started writing Vasilios I realized he was a far more complex character than I had originally intended. I was going to have to deal with his trust issues, his relationship to his master, his relationship to his status as a eunuch, and most importantly the fact that he was a slave.
My outline expanded to deal with the question of Vasilios’ servitude and the real tough questions of portraying slavery in any story.
Then Aritê came into the story. She was originally supposed to be a character mentioned in passing but who never got any actual on screen time, as it were.
As soon as I wrote the scene were Thoefilos describes her though I knew they were going to have to go out into the desert to find her. With her Aritê brought the question of faith and the complicated role faith plays in the story.
Suddenly I found myself writing scenes with angels in them and realizing that in some ways the story was also about Vasilios’ faith journey and his relationship with faith, belief and surrender.
At this point the story was over 60k word, twice what I had originally set out to write and I knew they were going to have to out back out into the desert again but this time to a monastery in search of a half-snake monk …
What really surprised me the most about writing the initial draft of the story was how fast it came together. For all that it ended up being almost three times longer than the story I had set out to write, it only took a couple weeks to knock out the first draft.
I wasn’t really sure what to do with it after I had written the first draft though. Going back over and editing something of that length seemed too intimating to me and I had no real idea if anyone asides from me would like it.
The story dealt with some heavy issues like slavery and religion. It also starred a fully castrated main character. As an author I was pretty much unknown in the m/m romance genre and unsure about how much I could get away with.
So I let it sit in my edits folder and went on to write other shorter works. At some point though I mentioned its existence in passing to the amazing LJ LaBarthe who was, to my shock, excited about reading it. She offered to beta read it for me and do some historical facts checking which I desperately needed.
Her enthusiasm made me reconsider. I dug the manuscript out and read over it. I was shocked by how much I liked the story and set about editing it.
Originally my world building had been very Euro-centric. Reevaluating I went back and did some research widening my inspiration pool to include some amazing non-European civilizations and cultures. I also reevaluated my reasoning for making my cast white. “Did my characters need to be white?” I asked myself and discovered that they didn’t.
I also broke the story up into chapters.
When I was done going over it I sent it off to LJ who went over it with a fine tooth comb, doing an especially good job catching, correcting or adding historical details.
We had some great back and forth over different articles of clothing, some of which I made up and some of which are historical, different foods, and what the monitory system for my world was like.
When she was done I went over it again this time looking for consistency in overall tone and overarching themes. I added the second sex scene since I felt there were things that hadn’t been addressed in the first one.
Finally I submitted it to Dreamspinner Press and kept my fingers crossed that they would take a chance and accept it.
Which they did!
It might not be as related to my process of writing but I am genuinely curious, what do all of you love in fantasy? What attracts you to the sub-genre of fantasy romance? Or if you are not ordinarily into the sub-genre what makes you interested in Like Fire Through Bone?
September 2, 2013
As I finish up my release party today, I’m getting ready to send my daughter off to middle school, one of those things that many parents dread. It’s more scary than it is to release a new book out into the wild, but I’m so glad you’ve been here to help me celebrate this wonderful day. Thank you. I’ll give you another little taste from Spark, one that deals with family, but first, I’d like to talk about sensitive subject matter.
I’m used to writing about sensitive issues, controversial topics, and even kinks that are squick-worthy to some, but not to all. When I wrote Spark, knowing from the start that it was going to be a trilogy inspired by something that actually happens in Fusion of North Star (book 2), I knew I was going to need to touch on sensitive topics.
Bisexuality. What? How is bisexuality a sensitive issue? To me, it’s not, but it is often one of the less visible letters in GLBT. And there are a lot of assumptions made about bisexuals that are far from true. Kevin Magnus just so happens to be bi. When we meet him in high school, he’s only dated girls. He’s never even been attracted to boys, until he meets Hugo Thorson. (Ooo, just writing that makes me excited! Self-discovery is wonderful.)
Kids. Wait. Before you run away, please hear me out. Over the years I’ve heard people talk about their dislike of kids in fiction. Spark (and all of North Star) is not centered around kids, but Kevin does have children who are part of the story. No matter what, Kevin is their dad, and one of his internal struggles his entire life has been to not turn into his distant father. Kevin would never abandon his children, so his kids are present. I’ve occasionally been the reader who rolls her eyes when a three-year-old talks like she’s twenty-three, but hopefully my child development degrees have helped me create kids who act developmentally appropriate.
The over-arching theme of North Star is family. I use that term loosely at times, meaning community, neighborhoods, and chosen family. I also use it in the more formal sense: family of origin as well as the family you create when you move away from your family of origin.
As an adult, Hugo’s family (aside from his mom and sister) really consists of Summer and Gilbert. Summer is Hugo’s best friend who is practically a sister, and Gilbert is the friend who understands Hugo in a way he doesn’t even know himself.
Kevin’s family consists of his almost-ex-wife Erin and their two kids, Brooke (10) and Finn (5). Brooke and Finn meet Hugo, who isn’t sure he wants anything to do with kids, and Summer, who is a kindergarten teacher that thinks kids are the greatest thing on earth. So how do you start a romance between a guy who’s not sure he even likes kids and a man who already has two kids of his own? You’ll have to read.
Separation/Divorce. That’s the third sensitive topic Spark deals with. Kevin is weeks away from finalizing his divorce when he meets up with Hugo seventeen years after their high school romance ended. Erin and Kevin have both agreed to start dating other people. Their romance was over long before Kevin asked for a divorce. They’d had a loveless marriage for years, and Erin even buys him a box of condoms (scene from book 2, Fusion), reminding him how often newborns wake up in the middle of the night. Erin is dating as well, so neither Erin nor Kevin see dating as cheating because of their agreement.
Erin is part of this story as well. She needs to be, because Kevin and Erin are still raising their kids together. That parenting relationship doesn’t dissolve as easily as a marriage does, or at least that’s the hope, even if in real life that happens a lot.
I truly enjoy writing about more than just a couple. I like writing about all the people surrounding the couple, because they make life richer, more complicated, and certainly more colorful. I can’t help but think of the saying “No man is an island” right now. It’s very true. We are shaped by the people around us and our experiences with them. I find writing about all those players to be very rewarding, and I believe it gives readers a richer understanding of the characters they get to know in fiction.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 16 where Kevin and Hugo’s families meet.
As Hugo and Kevin chopped a variety of veggies to wrap in foil packets for the grill and Summer added seasoning, the adults took some time getting to know each other, covering what they did for work and fun as well as where they were originally from. They inevitably tried to play Six Degrees of Separation with the people they knew from the various towns in Minnesota they’d each lived in over the years but could only come up with one connection which seemed to be at least eight degrees away. Unless you counted Myles, but they didn’t.
“I should get Brooke and Finn down here. I put in The Princess Bride so we could have a few uninterrupted adult minutes. You ready to meet them?” he directed at Hugo and Hugo alone.
He finished a swallow of wine and nodded. “Sure.”
Kevin climbed the stairs two at a time, Hugo watching after him, unable to keep from noticing how Kevin’s pants seemed to hug him in all the right places. And the bare feet on the wooden stairs distracted him again, so he missed Summer’s patter of conversation beside him. Kevin disappeared around the corner, no longer visible from the dining area where they were now seated. Hugo’s knee started bouncing, and Summer pressed a warm, calming hand to it.
“You’re not here on an interview to be their dad, okay?” she reminded him. “You’re just an old friend. Nothing else, so don’t work yourself up.”
“You’re right,” he whispered. “You’re always right.” He took a deep breath and slowly let it out through his nose, relaxing the muscles in his neck at the same time. With all the thinking he’d done in the last day about their past, his feelings for Kevin seemed to be reignited and burning white-hot, but he couldn’t get ahead of himself. “What do you think so far?” he asked, beyond curious.
“He’s hot and nice. His smile is amazing, and so are his gray eyes.”
Grey, ringed in midnight, he thought and was glad he’d kept his description to himself. “Okay, I already know all that. What do you think of him?”
“So far, so good. He seems… kind, warm. But I’m withholding my judgment like you asked me to. I’m going to give him the whole night until I’m even going to let myself go there and just be your best friend, okay?” Hugo nodded and took a quick, nervous sip. “Really, I’ve spent most of my time watching you, so far. Considering you haven’t seen him since you were eighteen, barring the other night, I’d think you guys had known each other forever. Well, except for the little moment you had back there where you were drooling over him.”
Hugo threw a cocktail napkin at Summer’s face and shook his head, ready to start berating her for being too harsh when a tall but slight girl with waist-length dark hair slowly walked down the stairs as if she had just woken up from a nap. Behind her, following quickly, was a cherubic-faced, strawberry-blond boy who easily overtook her. Kevin trotted down in bouncy movements to land at the bottom of the stairs at the same time as the girl.
“Brooke and Finn, I’d like you to meet my good friend Hugo and his friend Summer.”
The children were very polite, saying, “Pleased to meet you,” in unison. Obviously Kevin’s father had ingrained good manners into these kids before he died. More likely, it was Kevin and his ex, Hugo corrected his thoughts. Kevin rested his large hands on his kids’ shoulders in what seemed like a comforting gesture and gently squeezed when they spoke. All his motions did was distract Hugo from the children and draw all attention to Kevin’s hands. When had they gotten to be so big? The sight took his mind to dirty places it shouldn’t be while meeting children.
Hugo returned to pleasantries as best he could but was more than relieved when the teacher side of Summer came out, naturally moving the conversation on to things the kids were engaged in. It was as if a switch had been flipped, and Kevin’s kids came to life, talking animatedly and pulling Summer into the backyard to show her their sea glass collection.
“Sea glass?” Hugo asked Kevin skeptically. “Don’t you need a sea for that?”
“It’s just tumbled glass they find washed up on the beach. They love the stuff, and we spent most of today digging in the sand. I think Brooke wants to make some jewelry for her friend. Something about BFF necklaces, whatever those are. Finn just likes to dig in the sand and water. He’d be just as happy finding fish skeletons and chunks of concrete.”
“Best friends forever,” Hugo informed, but Kevin looked at him with a very puzzled expression on his face. “BFF means ‘best friends forever.’ Just thought I’d help decode the kid-speak for you.”
“Thanks. They say things I have no clue about sometimes. Well, at least Brooke does. Finn isn’t quite there yet, but Brooke is using abbreviations that make no sense to me half the time. I just figured out what ‘LOL’ meant on our drive back to the lake.”
“Yeah. I’m kinda pathetic when it comes to pop culture.”
“Well, I can help with that,” Hugo flirted, smiling over his wine glass as he took another sip. “They seem like great kids. I have two nieces. The youngest is about Brooke’s age, but the oldest is getting into the testy teen years. Nothing seems to please her unless it’s related to technology. Sometimes I just end up texting her while in the same room to draw her out. It’s unconventional, but worth doing to be a part of her life.”
“Do you see them much?”
“Yeah. Quite often. Charisse and her family live in Robbinsdale, right on Twin Lake. I’m their unofficial baby-sitter and chauffeur when she or her husband needs help. They’re almost too old for a baby-sitter now, but I go and hang out with them.”
“So you’re good with kids?”
“I’m… I’m good with my nieces because I know them,” Hugo answered with uncertainty in his tone due to his lack of confidence in where the conversation was going. “I mean. I don’t have a ton of experience with kids aside from the girls. It’s hard to say if I’m good with kids or not based on nieces I held before they were even an hour old. They’ve never not known me.”
“Well, don’t be intimidated by my kids. Brooke is a bit slow to warm up to new people, but once she does, you won’t be able to get her to stop talking about things that interest her. Not so much about herself. And Finn is pretty much a bundle of energy all the time, but easily entertained.”
“I’m sure Summer will be able to keep up with them.”
“It already looks like it. She seems to know you really well,” Kevin observed.
“Yeah. Probably better than anyone aside from my sister.”
Kevin sipped his wine and took a quick look down toward the water. Hugo looked as well and saw Summer and the kids huddled over what must’ve been the beach glass. Summer picked up a piece of something cobalt-blue and held it up to the sun. Brooke’s face lit up, and Hugo watched as she animatedly told a story he couldn’t hear, but he suspected from all her pointing and mimed swimming that Brooke had seen the piece deep in the water and had to dive to get her hands on it. Summer beamed, smiling and laughing. Finn seemed to try to get in on the retelling of the story, but Brooke rolled her eyes and sat next to Summer while Finn took center stage. Hugo loved watching Summer with kids.
I’ve lived away from my hometown and family since right after my eighteenth birthday, so I’ve had to create a chosen family. I have friends nearly 20 years younger as well as 20 years older and everything in between. What sort of people make up your own chosen family?
This is the last chance to enter to win by commenting. I’ll post winners tomorrow. Thank you so much for allowing me to play with you today. I hope you enjoy Spark as much as I enjoyed writing it, and look for Fusion coming out sometime in November.
September 2, 2013
When I set out to write North Star and Spark in particular, I knew one of my challenges was making it believable that Hugo Thorson and Kevin Magnus could have such a strong connection once they see each other again after their high school romance ended. I could’ve easily written a paragraph or two about how they’d been hot for each other as teens, but I knew that would create a paltry connection for readers compared to what the characters’ emotions truly were. I wanted readers to see how intensely these men loved when they were boys, so my path was pretty well set up for me. I have basically written two love stories in one book between the same men.
About a third of Spark is the coming-of-age story of Hugo and Kevin. I wanted readers to understand the foundation these men will eventually be building on. They meet in high school and start out as friends. Eventually it becomes more, but that doesn’t mean things go smoothly for them. At all. There are several challenges they have to navigate, and the issues that arise are challenging for adults, let alone sixteen-year-olds.
Another reason I wanted to explore these two men as boys was to see where they started. Family is very important to this story and these characters, and their history certainly affects them for the rest of North Star, from interpersonal dynamics to what they value.
Then Hugo and Kevin meet again years later, and they both feel their attraction almost immediately reignite. That doesn’t mean there aren’t doubts or real-life obstacles to get in the way. There certainly are, because life at thirty-five is often more complicated than it was at sixteen. At least for the weekend at the lake when they meet again, they try to make it as simple as they can. They’re just two men attracted to each other. After that weekend, they need to figure out how a relationship could possibly work.
Here’s a little taste from Spark, Chapter 4 of Hugo and Kevin’s first conversation after a seventeen-year separation. You can read it, or you can listen to me reading it by clicking the link below. Or you can even read and listen at the same time. I apologize ahead of time for not sounding like a sexy man at all.
Kevin laughed deep and warm in his chest and stopped walking, pulling Hugo to a stop with him. “God, Hugo. I missed you. You always did know what to say to make me feel better. How the heck did we ever lose track of each other after everything we discovered together?”
Hugo shrugged, not knowing how to answer after their gradual drift from talking on a regular basis during their first month in college to nothing by the time winter break came. Hugo’s mom and sister had moved to the Twin Cities mere months after Hugo left for college, and that certainly hadn’t helped matters. But it was more, he realized.
“We just had different lives, I think,” Hugo said with a shrug. “We went our separate ways after I said good-bye to you in your driveway.”
“I still regret not kissing you that day. I should have just said ‘screw it’ and kissed you like I wanted to, even if my dad was right there.”
Hugo looked up the few inches to meet Kevin’s gray eyes and tried to smile, but it probably came across more as sadness than a smile. He couldn’t believe Kevin still thought of that day too. He wondered if Kevin’s mind ever drifted to the kiss in the wooded meadow when he was bored in a meeting or like Hugo’s had that very afternoon in the car. Slowly, he felt the corner of his mouth turn into something akin to flirty, and he asked, “Oh?”
“Yes,” Kevin said as his warm thumb trailed across Hugo’s jaw toward his chin. “I’ve thought about that day a lot, about our last kiss and how I wish it never would’ve ended. Damn the rain. Would you mind if I showed you how I’ve always imagined that moment in the driveway would’ve happened? Or are you with someone?”
“No. I mean, yes, you can show me,” Hugo stammered, his heart beating hard against his chest.
Kevin’s smile lit up his face, and he looked so young just then, the careworn lines that had appeared between his brows while talking about his father smoothing.
“Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly like I would have said things back then, but this is how I wish I would’ve done it. Ready?”
Hugo nodded and licked his lips, drawing Kevin’s attention to his mouth.
“So pretend we’re standing next to my open trunk,” Kevin directed as he led Hugo near the tail end of a car parked in a driveway close to the roadside. Kevin tilted his head left and right, shaking his hands out loosely next to his body as if trying to get into character.
“Hugo,” he started, somehow pulling youthful nervousness into his voice, “we should plan on getting together in a few weeks.”
“Sure,” Hugo answered, ready to play along with the conversation he barely remembered. He recalled the feelings he’d had, though: excitement about leaving Austin but sadness about leaving Kevin. “I can get a ride down to St. Peter, or you can come up to Minneapolis. It’s not that far.”
That drive never ended up happening for either of them because Hugo auditioned for a play in the U’s theater department and got a lead role as a freshman, something unheard of. He had no time to get together on weekends because he had homework to do and lines to memorize and blocking to learn and sets to help build.
“Seventy miles or so.”
That’s where Hugo vaguely remembered Kevin’s dad clapping his big hands and telling Kevin he’d better hit the road. Now there was just the sound of far-off waves and traffic from the highway on the other side of the trees peppered with exploding fireworks.
“I’d love that,” Hugo said, regretful he hadn’t taken the time to find a ride and just go. “I’ll make it happen,” he promised, and he wished he’d kept it.
Kevin looked at Hugo with such intensity; even in the darkness surrounding them, Hugo could see how blown Kevin’s pupils were.
“It’ll happen this time,” Kevin whispered against Hugo’s mouth, lazily closing his eyes as he spoke.
Hugo tasted Kevin’s breath on his tongue, remembering it, even with the faint scent of lemon lingering. A silvery thread of his memory seemed to actually weave this moment to the moments in his past, pushing Hugo back into that world, filling him with all those emotions he had for Kevin when they were just boys. Kevin was the only man Hugo had really and truly been in love with. He was the ruler every single boyfriend since had to unwittingly measure himself against. And none, not a single one, had ever gotten anywhere near.
Hugo took in a quick breath and pushed forward, capturing Kevin’s mouth with his own as his fingers threaded through thick blond waves and shorter razor-cut strands; his hands landed on Kevin’s neck. Hugo thumbed over Kevin’s ears, allowing the pads of his fingers to tease the fine hair along his earlobes.
They fused their mouths, opening and closing with lips caressing, teeth nipping, and tongues pushing against each other in an attempt to taste the familiarity that was new again.
Kevin trailed his hands down Hugo’s back, kneading his fingers against Hugo’s ass once he got there, then pulling them closer. Hugo felt Kevin starting to firm up beneath the thin material of his shorts, and he wanted so badly to thrust. He barely restrained himself.
They stood on a darkened road and kissed how they both wished they would have years ago, giving to each other more than they took away. But by doing it that way, Hugo felt more content than he had in years.
“Come back to my place?” Kevin panted against Hugo’s temple. “Please, Hugh?”
Hugo nodded as he tried to catch his breath and then nodded again.
You know those moments when you see someone after years and years? They can sure be awkward. Or they can be great! What sorts of experiences have you had? For the record, I’ve avoided high school reunions for this reason. If you share, I’ll enter you in a drawing for one of three free eBook copies of Spark.
Oh, and just for the heck of it, click here to listen to me read another clip from Chapter 4 that I lovingly call buttboy1978. :)
September 2, 2013
Spark is story about Hugo Thorson and Kevin Magnus at two different times in their lives: their teens and their mid-thirties. Gladly, I no longer look like I did when I was sixteen, because it was the eighties and I permed my hair, wore more makeup than was good for me, and thought shoulder pads were still cool. At least Hugo and Kevin were teens in the nineties and missed out on mullets, but that did leave me with the opportunity to find two very different looks for both of my main characters.
I had a lot of different faces representing Hugo and Kevin at different stages, and I also had a lot of hairstyles as well. Kevin had longer hair in his youth; Hugo had shorter. As adults, they switched. I knew the overall look I was going for with both of my characters, even if I couldn’t always find the exact face to fit. I’d like to share a few with you here.
Hugo has blue eyes, pale skin, and dark hair that is almost blue-black. As an adult, he has very defined cheekbones, and the model, Miles McMillan really became Hugo to me. While Miles has hazel eyes, in my head I always made them blue.
I described Kevin as an all-American golden boy. And while his long hair in his youth made him look more rebellious than he ever was, his father hated that image. Kevin secretly loved that his father hated his longer hair, but as you can see by the photo on the right, he cut his blond waves off as he matured into adulthood.
I could look at photos of these men for a very long time and not tire of it, but I realize some people may not quite get the Hugo in my head being represented by these photos. The joy of reading a book is that we get to create our own dream man, so if the images that inspired me to write don’t work for you, make your own. I’d love to see those images, in fact.
I also made very good use of my Pinterest boards to keep track of other images I wrote about in Spark. I have locations, items used by characters, food, dishes, and even images that just give the feel of a scene or two.
Since I live within driving distance of most of the locations in Spark, I was able to take several day trips and photograph important places. I used some of those photos of where Hugo and Kevin lived as teens to help create a video while I read an excerpt. If you’d like, go here to see it. I know the production value has a lot to be desired.
Here’s another little taste of Hugo’s impression of Kevin that takes place right after the reading in the video. You can read Chapter 1 here.
Kevin’s hair was much shorter than it had been when they first met, now cropped along the sides and back with thick, long strands pushed back off his forehead. It was still the same golden-blond that had attracted Hugo so many years ago when they introduced themselves on Kevin’s first day working at Hormel. When Kevin had stepped into the room where a nearly sixteen-year-old Hugo was just starting to hand-wash the delicate blown-glass vessels used in research and taste testing, Hugo almost broke a large beaker which probably cost more than he made in a week.
Nineteen years prior, Kevin had silky blond hair just skimming past his shoulders, which he had pulled back to look more office appropriate, but wispy bangs escaped the binding, framing his eyes and dark-blond brows. His eyes were gray and piercing, ringed in blue so dark it looked like the color of the sky at dusk right before it turned black. He was beautiful, but not classically so. His lips were too full for a man’s face, too full for him to not be called pretty, at least. But his long nose, high cheekbones, and strong jaw gave his face masculinity, even if all those distinctive lines did were draw Hugo’s focus right back to those pink, parted lips.
Question time: In your youth did you have a regrettable hairstyle? I certainly did. Answer and I’ll enter you in a drawing for one of three free eBook copies of Spark.