Amy Lane on Why She Believes in Happy Endings

7544649Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by for my third and last post in the  series. This week I’ve shared my conversations with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe where they discussed writing characters with PTSD, and my chat with Dal Maclean who came by to talk about her process writing a character with severe childhood trauma. Today I delighted to have one of my favorite authors of gay romance, Amy Lane, to talk about why she is so passionate about given HER broken heroes happy endings.

If you are a fan of gay romance you surely have read at least one Amy Lane novel. She is a prolific author putting out multiple novels every year, and although she is known for her more angsty books, she has quite a collection of lighter romance as well. A common thread in many of her books is to have characters who have suffered abuse and neglect (sometimes extreme)  or some kind of trauma in their childhoods. They reach adulthood with some emotional battle scars and happily in her stories they get to find unconditional love. 10821000

Amy’s stories can be raw and sometimes the emotional pain her characters carry can be almost too much to bear. I love her books because I can relate to the struggle in her characters, especially that yearning we all have to be seen for who we truly are by someone. To be loved even with our wounds.

I don’t think I could list every book of Amy Lane’s that I’ve loved in just one blog post, but I will briefly list some I think are particularly notable in relation to the theme of this blog series.

“Locker Room”, which is my favorite of all her books, and believe me that is saying a lot, gives us Xander, the basketball player who pushed himself of from a childhood of neglect and abuse to become a professional basketball player with the love and support of his lover Chris, who also has his own demons.

Others include, the “Promises” series  which has powerful stories that show not only how much the world can hurt people, but also how healing and happening is possible. “Racing for the Sun” delves into the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. It is a harsh and bloody story, almost like an avenging fantasy, but I loved it for how raw it was. “Bolt-Hole” touches upon the incredible damage that systematic racism can have on the life a  young black man. I think this is one of Amy’s more profound books. The “Johnnies” series, which starts of with “Chase in Shadow.”  A heart wrenching love story, the whole Johnnies universe is frankly some of her best work. This list is pitiably short, Amy as I said is very prolific, and her back list could keep you in books for months. I just wanted to highlight some of my favorites.13423284

So let’s get on with my chat with Amy, she was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her. I hope you find her answers as moving as I did, I as humbled by her honesty and willingness to share some of her personal reasons for writing the stories she does.

The Tipsy Bibliophile: Why is it important for you to give happy endings to men that have endured so much emotional damage? 

Amy Lane:  I think it’s because we ALL have our damage. Yes, my ten on the Amy scale damage may be three on someone else’s damage scale–but there was still a moment in my life when I was terrified and powerless, and it affected me profoundly. My family doesn’t do psychologists or counselors– we just power on through–so the first person to really see the extent of my damage was the first person I fell in love with. Luckily, he saw that I was more than just that damage, and we’ve been married for nearly thirty years, but still: rendering yourself naked before someone else, painful scars and all, is an act of bravery. 

And if you believe that people deserve love, forgiveness, a chance for absolution if they have sinned and to be productive and positive if they’re innocent–if you truly believe that, showing your naked painful scars is something everybody must do to find happiness. 
17700033So I write people with that damage, who do the unspeakably brave and live and love to tell about it. 
It’s a belief in humanity and hope. 
TTB: Trauma is a theme you have explored widely in your books, childhood trauma, sexual and domestic violence, PTSD in veterans, grief. Are there any traits in the characters or how you write them that are are consistent for every character or are they always different?

AL: As far as I can tell, there are two ways to react to trauma.

You can keep it quiet and let it make you weak, or tell the world and let it make you strong. 
But I don’t believe in absolutes–so most of my characters are on some sliding scale between these two extremes.  Deacon keeps his pain silent, Crick is pretty vocal about his, and Shane is somewhere in the middle.  Chase’s pain is so profoundly buried that he’s practically two people–the screaming child on the inside and the clueless man he pretends to be on the outside, and Kane just deals with each blow and keeps on rolling when it’s passed.  I know my own personal damage is known to a few people–but every now and then, somebody will say and do something that will resurrect it, and I’ll have to expose it to sunlight again and kill it. So if you’re writing damaged people, you need to acknowledge not only what the damage is, but how the character has reacted to it in the past–and what they’re going to have to do to expose their hearts and tell the world (or their significant other) so they can have a viable future.  And it’s always important to acknowledge that this is an ongoing process–even if you “rip off the bandaid” of your psychic pain, that wound still has to heal when exposed to air. 
Each person’s journey in healing from trauma is different and it takes a lot of strength to openly share that with others. I am grateful to Amy for sharing with us some of her own journey and those that she takes her characters on. She is a phenomenally brave human, I am honored to know her.
Again a big thanks to all the authors who joined me this week to talk about trauma and romance, and of course to all of those who stopped by to read the posts!
Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Lauraa

 

Dal Mclean: Writing Heroes with Childhood Trauma

Welcome Back! Today I have the fabulous Dal Maclean to talk about her process in writing her amazing (and I mean SERIOUSLY AMAZING) book “Bitter Legacy“. This book was one of my favorites of last year, and one of the biggest reasons for that was how Ben, one of the main characters, was written. Ben survived severe trauma in his early childhood, and even after long years of therapy and family support there were still ways in which that trauma impacted him. I appreciated Dal’s, portrayal of what a trauma can look like for an adult survivor. I use the word “can” because trauma like everything else, is different for everyone. With characters like Ben, what I look for when I read fiction, is for a rendition that is thoughtful, and allows the character dignity and the possibility of healing.

I really wanted to chat with Dal about how she wrote Ben, his inner workings and why she decided to let him show his emotional pain, even if it did cost her some points in with the readers! In romance we have certain expectations on how a character should behave, and Ben broke some of those rules. He is such a layered character, and his pain was so palpable, he actually reminded me of some of the clients I’ve worked with over the years. So, I reached out to Dal with some questions about her process and other things that I was very curious about after reading her book.

Before I get to the interview though, I’d like to talk briefly about childhood trauma.  So what makes trauma in childhood different than trauma suffered as an adult? Aren’t children resilient and get past these painful events faster than an adult would? According to Judith Herman in her book “Trauma and Recovery”,

“repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in  a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protections with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses.

The pathological environment of childhood abuse forces the development of extraordinary capacities, both creative and destructive. It fosters the development of abnormal states of consciousness in which the ordinary relations of body and mind, reality and imagination, knowledge and memory, no longer hold.”

We can use that passage as an answer to my first question, which makes it pretty easy to guess what the answer to the second one would be. In short, trauma in childhood can have severe and lasting effects. And even though healing is VERY MUCH possible, there are no simple solutions, falling in love (even if it would be nice if it was) is unfortunately not a panacea. If anything depending on the type of abuse, it could trigger memories and old defenses that can be very hard to manage.

I will leave the lesson there, and go to my chat with Dal, I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did. For the those out there who are as geeky about books as I am, I think you will like just how deeply into Ben’s mind Dal got.

30777300The Tipsy Bibliophile: Writing characters with childhood trauma, specially trauma that comes from abuse, can be very hard. It can definitely create empathy for the reader, the issue is, people with trauma can be erratic and messy. Fiction (especially romance) tends to like their heroes a bit neater. So it can be hard to accurately portray the emotional pain and sometimes destructive ways in which that trauma can present.
It is not done often frankly, most times those self-destructive behaviors or poor coping skills just wash away once that romance begins to build. Which leads me to Ben, one of the heroes in your mystery Bitter Legacy, why was it important to you to continue to show the dark parts of Ben, even after he became involved with James?

Dal Maclean: I should say first of all as a disclaimer that I’m not a trained expert in mental health issues.
But as a writer, I think it WAS important, because those darker parts of Ben were vital to who he was as a character, and to the plot as it turned out. What Ben went through as a child was extreme and it didn’t seem to me realistic that it wouldn’t have a lasting effect on his emotions or outlook on other people and his relationships with them.

From a certain point,he had emotional support from his parents and extensive and expensive therapy (like his siblings) but because of certain traits in his character and the particular relation ship he had with his tormentor, he emerged the strongest and probably the healthiest emotionally of all the people affected by the ‘bitter legacy’ of the book. Ben has a very high IQ and EQ and an extremely strong will. Of them all he was most in control of how he dealt with his wounds but no, his behaviour wasn’t ‘neat’.

I wanted to show that there is hope of course for a happy ending for survivors of abuse, but equally I didn’t want to diminish it or make it facile. I didn’t think it was realistic to suggest Ben would easily lower a lifetime of learned defences and innate suspicion because he ‘fell in love’, or that he would necessarily think ‘falling in love’ was a good thing even if he could recognise it.
Ben is above all, a survivor. He wouldn’t have come through what he did in such good shape, if he weren’t, but having survived, throwing himself under the wheels of someone else’s emotions isn’t going to be done lightly. For Ben I would say, the greatest issues were always going to be control and trust.

How could Ben find anyone he could trust to tell the truth of who he was, and believe they’d still want/love him, when he’s himself repelled by it? How could he ever trust another person not to betray his secret or change their mind– and remember he’s seen graphic proof as a child of how much ‘love and commitment’ weren’t worth? How could he allow himself to relax and try to be with anyone who didn’t know his past, always fearing the truth would emerge somehow? Much easier to keep people close enough for fun and company but always at a safe emotional distance, through his …behaviour (trying not to give everything away here…)

You describe his behaviour as self destructive, Laura, but I think for Ben it’s the opposite – for him its self preservation, which is, after his childhood, his most basic instinct.

Then along comes James — not just someone to whom he’s overwhelmingly physically attracted, but also, that rarest of things — a white knight — truly honourable, brave, kind, almost innocent; a force for good.

And that is an unbelievable pull to Ben; he’s caught from the start by that potential to trust him. He’s in just as deeply as James is, all the way, though, through James’s eyes, it’s hard to see. (That ‘white hat’ thing is why Steggie is so attracted to James too, incidentally).

But for Ben, falling in love, and depending on someone else for his happiness – someone who could find out who he is and turn away from him – is ceding control of his own destiny. Not something to be welcomed, but to be resisted at all costs. Which he does manically, and sometimes cruelly. though that’s more desperation than conscious choice.

Finally it’s proved to Ben both that James deserves his trust, and that he genuinely doesn’t care who Ben is. So Ben finds the courage and desperation to make the most terrifying leap of faith, against everything he’s ever lived by, to try to hold on to this one person. And it works out. I thought that was actually kinda romantic in the end. ☺

TTB: Did readers react to him in unexpected ways because you chose to let his character stay “broken” even when he had James’ love?

DM: Oooh. Well. Yes! I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think I’m a romance writer so much as someone trying to write romance and I think Ben’s character in Bitter Legacy sort of proves that. It definitely went against… expectations? And I think because maybe some readers had those expectations – which is perfectly reasonable given its ‘a mystery romance’ — people took Ben to the very end at face value, as a romantic love interest who hadn’t behaved romantically enough.

Ben says at the end ‘its what I did, not what I am’ and that is the essence of his behaviour. It had a purpose far beyond enjoyment – as I said above, it’s his shield, his protection, distancing him from involvement, leaving him in control. But some readers did see ‘what he did, as what he was’ and decided it wasn’t realistic that he could be anything else.

In my view though Ben’s behaviour was not compulsion. It wasn’t pathological; it was a behaviour usef/chosen made for specific purpose.

An important clue really that Ben probably isn’t ‘cured’ is, that James is unique to Ben. He’s unique from the start as is shown by Ben breaking his rules for him and lying by omission to try to hold on to him. And James becomes more and more singular right through until the end– the one person who, by what James is shown to be (the white knight; a friend Ben can confide weakness to), and by what James knows and accepts – can be trusted by Ben. I don’t think anyone else can fit that space for Ben. And Ben will not voluntarily risk losing him.

I think perhaps in our genre though, Ben’s behaviour, especially in persisting in causing the hero so much pain even after the love affair begins, is one of the worsts thing a character can do really. Some readers were very much more sympathetic to the murderer because his character arc and his way of dealing with his experiences had been hidden behind a more sympathetic (to the hero) pattern of behaviour. It surprised me I admit, as a rookie, that what Ben did, even with reasons behind it, was seen by some readers as less forgivable than murder. But… lol
TTB: While reading “Bitter Legacy” I was happily surprised just how flawed you let your characters be and without taking away their humanity. It can be easy to let a label, determine where a person can go, or what they get to have in a story. That includes love and compassion. However in your novel, even the “villain” had deeply redemptive qualities and was a character with which I had a lot of empathy. Was showing how complex people can be, and that there is a lot of gray when it comes to relationships something that you went about with intention?

DM: Thank you so much! I’m glad you appreciated the flaws. ☺ I think imperfect characters are my favourite thing. My biggest driver is trying to convey what makes different kinds of people tick. I love reading complex characters who have that layering which we all have as people. Relationships and people ARE complex things; that’s what makes them so fascinating.

So yes, definitely with intention –though maybe not always with success.

Villains are more interesting if they’re sympathetic, though sometimes outright scenery-chewing evil ones are fabulous too (Take a bow Dal Carrington Colby Dexter, nemesis of Nicole Kimberling’s Binky and Brutus!! :D)

But I absolutely love imperfect heroes best of all,,. with flaws and issues that cause genuine – not easily resolved — conflict.

I like heroes who’re sometimes messy and behave badly or stupidly or stubbornly or selfishly. Or hurtfully. People who’re afraid, or make mistakes, or occasionally think less than perfect things. But hopefully always for reasons that make sense, with who they are at that point. And they can still be heroes.

Romance is I suppose, ultimately, wish fulfillment, which is one of the reasons I love it and I’ll always want the happy ending. But when a writer gives me a believable HEA after getting me emotionally invested and making me feel the characters are real and have fought hard emotionally to get there, and for a while I even thought they may not make it… I love stories with an edge like that, that then take me home ☺

Thanks so much to Dal for this amazing chat. Please come back Friday for talk with Amy Lane, where she gives me incredibly honest answers about why she writes the characters that she does.  She made me cry…

If you would like to read more about childhood trauma here are a few books I have read over the years and have found to be incredibly valuable:

The Boy Who Was Raised as A Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiastrist’s Notebook by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalvitz

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman

Bastard Out Of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

You can buy “Bitter Legacy” by Dal Maclean HERE.

You can find out more about Dal’s work HERE.

Thanks for reading! If you have any book recommendation fiction or nonfiction on this subject, please share them in the comments!

Cheers!

Lauraa

Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe Talk About Writing Veteran Heroes and PTSD

Welcome! So, today I have Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe on the blog today, to talk about what it was like for them to write characters who have come back from war, and are struggling with the effects of the trauma they experienced. I think both Megan in her book “Overexposed”, as well as C.S. in her “Snow and Winter” series do a great job of putting out there how hard it is to walk around wounded on the inside, but to the outside world looking completely fine. The fear of being “stigmatized” or being labelled as “crazy” is yet another layer of difficulty that veterans have to confront. Espcially when most people don’t even understand what PTSD even means or looks like.

So what is PTSD? According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Some of the symptoms can be, “reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms), avoiding situations that remind you of the event, having more negative beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).” Imagine dealing with all that and trying to rebuild a life or starting a new relationship. It’s a lot, and even if it is doable, it does not magically disappear because they have fallen in love.

So, this leads into my conversations with our guest authors. First, I will share my chat with Megan about her heroes Thad and Levi from Overexposed, and why it was important for her to show their emotional pain as accurately as possible. Here it is:

28490317TTB: In “Overexposed” you had two characters who had each experienced traumatic events. Thad is a veteran who has recently come back from his latest deployment, and is still reeling from those experiences, and Levi is grieving his sister who died in active duty.  

While reading the story I was really struck by how their ways of dealing with their pain was so different, and yet so similar. Thad’s complete silence, he was almost unable to speak about anything. Levi who was such an extrovert, had to find quiet in order to finally let the grieving happen. And yet,  they both ended on the same path, literally. However even once their connection happened, still they could not heal the other person. Each of them had to find a way back from their journey on their own. I thought that was a beautiful analogy, and letting their pain be part of the story made the novel a really wonderful read. Can you talk a bit about why you chose to let the effects of their pain and grief linger, and not just dissipate once the romance began?

Megan Erickson: Thank you so much for your kind words on “Overexposed”. This book was difficult to write because I knew there would be a lot of pain and grief. Regarding letting the effects of their pain and grief linger: I think it’s important to show that grief will change us. It’ll change how we live, love, make decisions, etc. And with Thad and Levi, I wanted to show that love and romance can break down some walls inside of ourselves. Meaning, once we start to see how others view us, especially ones that love us, it gives us a chance to look closer at ourselves. Love can be a mirror. I’m sure there were times Thad was thinking–why is Levi into me? What is it about me that he sees? Do I see myself that way?

TTB: The “Damaged War Veteran” is not an uncommon theme in gay romance. It’s a well used trope, however a lot the portrayals of these character’s experiences can be pretty superficial. It’s hard to develop a romance while trying to accurately portray what the effects of PTSD really look like, without resorting to graphic details or images that could affect the reader in a negative way. How did you approach writing Thad’s PTSD, and how was it different for you than other characters in your novels?

ME: The thing about PTSD is that it affects everyone differently. For Thad, he’d always been a quiet guy, an introvert, and he hadn’t really found many people at all that understood him. So when his brain was actively fighting itself over trauma, his solution was to get away from everyone. He couldn’t understand himself, how could others? Thad was different for me, because I admire those who serve so much, and I wanted to treat his situation delicately. He didn’t feel like a hero, and never really wanted to be.

Some would say that romance is a less serious genre, that the focus should be on getting that believable “HEA” and that getting too deeply into a character’s trauma could hurt the story.

TTB: Why do you think it’s important to be mindful of portraying trauma accurately? Have you found the reactions to Thad and Levi’s characters to be positive or any different from other books?

ME: I think it’s incredibly important to portray trauma well. Mainly because even if a character didn’t go through the same experience, they might have dealt with another traumatic experience similarly, or had the same thoughts. And for them to see themselves reflected on the page and treated with care and respect is everything.

I had no idea how readers would react to Thad and Levi but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s an angstier read, so I’m sure it wasn’t everyone’s thing, but the responses have been amazing and very intense emotionally. One reader got a tattoo with a line from this book, and another got a tattoo of a tent and moon to signify Thad and Levi’s journey on the Appalachian Trail. Which just blows me away. I’m grateful every day for being able to do what I do.

29759618In the “Snow and Winter” series one of C.S. Poe’s heroes, Calvin Winter is a NYPD detective who is still suffering the effects from what he experienced while serving in the military. He is haunted by his memories, and even though he has tried to push it all down and keep going, things are slowly falling apart.

One of the things I really like about Calvin’s character is that C.S. shows how much his struggles with showing weakness, how opening up about his trauma would mark him some how. I think that conflict made Calvin very appealing to me, and I think was a great issue to address. So I had a chat with C.S. about her book and why she chose to approach Calvin in the way she did. Here is what she had to say.

TTB: PTSD in a character, specially in a romance, can be quite heavy if portrayed accurately. For your first novel you decided to delve in the trauma that Detective Calvin Winter had suffered while in combat. I think the book is better for it, and certainly makes Calvin a much more intriguing hero. What parts of Calvin’s struggle with his trauma were important for you to get right?

C.S. Poe: Writing Calvin’s character came with the very serious task of accurately representing aspects of PTSD, and it was in the forefront of my mind throughout the entire writing and editing process. It was important to me to show Calvin as a strong, smart, and brave man, while at the same time reflecting an inner struggle he acquired later in life. Calvin has a battle raging inside, where he is trying to be the man everyone sees– a hero, while accepting the fact that war has changed him and he may need help to overcome what he has experienced. It was his reluctance to seek help that I wanted to portray, the concept that he feels weak or has somehow let people down by not being Captain America.

Another important element to his character was to not make the PTSD who Calvin is. He is a man. He is a highly decorated army veteran and metro detective. He’s a son, a brother, and a boyfriend. He is not PTSD. In order to show this, I had to do a lot of research, which involved days of documentaries and videos, reading articles and support groups, researching VA hospitals, and more. I wanted to represent symptoms of PTSD subtly that suggested Calvin was struggling hard, but that he won’t let it consume his life.

TTB: Something I struggle with when I see it in a novel, is the minimization of trauma once the romance begins to emerge. The idea being that love can make the PTSD go away, when in fact it is a lot more complicated than that. Do you think that putting Calvin’s struggle right in the midst of his relationship with Sebastian gives their love story a depth that would not have been there otherwise?

CSP: Absolutely it did. Through my extensive research on PTSD in veterans, I’ve learned that in fact, many relationships struggle to stay afloat, and even more can often fail. Of course a relationship that doesn’t succeed breaks the single rule of a romance novel, that being there needs to be a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now, in the case of this ongoing series. Calvin’s happiness and success with Sebastian is a very critical and key element of the character arcs in these books. When the two meet in Nevermore, Calvin is pretty low, and because of how PTSD can intensify with emotional stress from a relationship, especially a new one that didn’t start so easily with Sebastian, it was important that in Book Two, Curiosities, Calvin basically hit rock bottom. I needed to stay true to how devastating PTSD can be, to not belittle what real people experience, while at the same time giving hope and belief that things can get better, as seen through a man like Calvin.

To Sebastian, Calvin is his knight in shining armor. Sebastian doesn’t think anything less of Calvin when the armor is too heavy to hold up without some help. There is a raw, naked honesty between the two men. The ability to ask for and receive help during the darkest moments, while remaining equals, that I think solidifies their romance, and makes them so very special to one another.


I am always grateful to have stumbled upon this genre, and one of the biggest reasons is that it is filled with authors who feel such passion for writing their stories. Thanks so much to Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe to taking the time to talk with me about their heroes and their writing process.

Please comment if there are any other books out there with veterans or those suffering the effects of PTSD that you recommend.

Other favorites of mine are:

Think of England by KJ Charles

Marlowe’s Ghost by Sarah Black

Racing for the Sun by Amy Lane

If you would like to read more about Trauma and PTSD in particular here are a couple of books I recommend:

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence- From Domestic Abuse to Political Power by Judith Herman

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk

You can buy “Overexposed” HERE.

You can learn more about Megan Erickson and her work HERE.

You can buy “Snow and Winter” series HERE.

You can more about C.S. Poe and her work HERE.

Please stop by again on Wednesday to read about my chat with Dal Mclean and our chat about writing a hero with childhood trauma.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

Real Talk: Reading (and writing) Romance with Heroes who are Trauma Survivors

As I have mentioned before I am a social worker, and most of my work is doing advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence (a big reason why I read so much romance, I need to gorge on those HEAs sometimes , ya know?).  So that means I have a critical eye for how trauma is portrayed in books. Those stories with veterans suffering from PTSD, characters who survived sexual or physical abuse as children, or those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted as adults. Are their stories told with care and respect for what they survived? Does is it ring true, is it fair, or is it simplistic? Does it minimize the struggle living with the effects of trauma can be for the person who has experienced it, as well as the loved ones who are there to support them? These are questions that I constantly have in my head when I pick up a book with this kind of story, and the answers matter.

So what is trauma anyway? According to Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftemath of Violence From Domestic Violence to Politcal Terror (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone doing research about trauma) “psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.” That last line is the important one when it comes to relationships and one that I think has a lot weight when thinking about romance.

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Heroes with histories of trauma are a popular theme in Gay Romance, which frankly is one of the reasons why I love the genre. These stories are hard, and provoke empathy and a connection with the characters that is quite powerful. However, there is also a tendency to try and fix that brokenness in the characters once love is part of the equation, in ways that to me feel a bit simplistic. It would be wonderful if love could solve everything, but the reality is that for most people who are struggling with the effects of trauma, even when they are loved and supported unconditionally, those wounds don’t go away. They can be managed and healing is definitely possible, but they don’t just disappear. These are subjects that need to be approached with care, because implying that they can be solved so easily could be hurtful or feel like judgment for readers who are going through similar situations. However when they are done well, they make for some of the very best reading the genre has to offer, and they could be sources of hope and validation for those out there trying to heal.

So who is out there writing this stuff in ways that rings true and are also delivering on those powerful HEAs? Well, lots of authors actually! I reached out to a few who have written some of my recent favorites, and chatted with them about why it was important for them to show accurate portrayals of what the effects of trauma looked like for their characters even if it was a messy sight.

Over the next few posts I will share my conversation with Megan Erickson whose book Overexposed, is one of my favorites and I think does a beautiful job of rendering both of her heroes’ struggles. Thad’s PSTD from his time in Afghanistan, and Levi’s grief from losing his sister to the same war. I also talked with C.S. Poe whose hero Detective Calvin Winter in the Snow and Winter series, struggles to adjust to civilian life after leaving the military. The portrayal C.S. does of how violent and pervasive PTSD can be is fantastic, and she still manages to give us a funny and robust love story.

I also will be chatting with Dal Mclean and her book Bitter Legacy, which deals with a hero who is survivor of horrific child abuse. This topic is particularly important to me, and I think Dal does one of the finest jobs in rendering it that I’ve read in this genre. And yet her heroes still get their happy ending. Finally we will hear from the Queen of Angst herself, Amy Lane. She will talk about her writing and why she keeps going back to those broken heroes.

So, more than a lecture on what trauma is, although I will give definitions and such! 🙂 I hope this is more of a conversation starter. These authors have been quite generous to share some insight, and I hope to hear some more thoughts about this topic, and maybe get some recommendations on other books that approach this topic well.

Also, I will be listing some resources during the posts, of books on trauma that I have read over the years which I think are incredibly informative, and could be of use for those who write these kinds of heroes. And finally, I will list other novels that I have loved over the years and I think broach these subjects well.

Ok, that is all for me today! Come back Monday for my chat with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe about writing heroes who have come back with from war emotionally wounded.

Happy Friday All.

Cheers and happy Reading!

Laura

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole and South African Sauv Blanc

30237404This book was one that I went into with a lot of expectations. I’ve found myself searching more and more for stories with characters of color, written by people of color, these days. Which I can tell you is not an easy fit in romance. There is not a lot out there fitting those categories. Especially historicals, so when I saw An Extraordinary Union an interracial romance set during the American Civil War floating around my Instagram feed I HAD to pick it up. Alyssa Cole is a new to me author, I don’t read a lot of het romance, so I had missed her stuff, which is a shame, because this lady can write! I was happily surprised in multiple ways with this book. One, the story was meticulously researched, I read A LOT about this time in American history, and can say this author did her homework.  Two did not sugar coat or whitewash the harsh, shameful realities that were playing out in this country at the time, and the incredible injustices under which people of color lived. Three, Elle the heroine, was BADASS, let me repeat, she was BAD.ASS. She was strong, smart  and totally unapologetic about it. It would take an exceptional man to get her attention, and Malcolm was the dude for the job.

Before I get more into the story though, let’s talk wine people! It’s mostly sunny here in the NYC ‘burbs these days, so we have to start putting together that Summer Wine list. This story for some reason made me a bit hot and bothered 🙂 So,  I decided to go with one of my go to wineries, Indaba Wines out of South Africa. Inbada wines are insanely affordable and ALWAYS deliver. Their Sauvignon Blanc is dry and tangy, with some citrus notes that always hit the spot. This bottle constantly makes Wine Enthusiast “Best of” lists. I pick this up again and again, and I am yet to be disappointed. A bottle usually goes between $8-$10, can’t beat that!

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Elle and Malcolm are both spies for the Union, and they keep running into each other while getting their work done. They finally end up undercover in the same Rebel enclave in Virginia. Elle is there as a slave, and Malcolm is passing as a soldier for the confederacy. They are in a delicate situation, and the stakes are very high. It is not a good time for torrid affairs, but they can’t stay away from each other.

Things are not easy though, Elle is horrified by her attraction to a white man, even if he is a “good guy” he represents everything that is evil in her world.  Malcolm sees Elle, her intelligence, beauty and strength, and and he is lost. She literally eats away at all his defenses. He’s never wanted love, he’s seen how destructive that feeling can turn between two people. Besides,  he has no time for love, he’s always moving, doing what he needs to for the Union. The thing is the pull they feel towards each other, eventually becomes stronger than all those perfectly good reasons to stay away.

Interracial romance is tricky. One of the things that I find authors consistently miss the mark on is just naming how how complicated the dynamics can be. Not just background and cultural differences, there are all kinds of power imbalances and stereotypes to grapple with.  Throw this into a time and place when the imbalance of power was so absolute, there is a lot of room for error.

In this novel though, the author, by putting all of those complications out there as part of the struggles for our heroes, made the love story that much more genuine. As I said earlier, this story is exquisitely set, the author grounds us in the time and place of Elle and Malcolm solidly, and she does not pull punches. It was a brutal time to be  a black woman, and especially one that was willing to fight for the liberation of her people. It was also hard to be a white man on the right side of history. These are not easy things to blend into a romance, and yet Elle and Malcolm fall in love while still fighting for the what they believe in. They were also hella hot in the process.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and was glad to get to an ending that seems to indicate more to come. I highly recommend this book to fans of historical romance. It has all the elements that make a good story, lots of tension, life giving banter, hotness, and main characters that had personality and then some.

Hope you pick this book up and hit the wine store too!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

You can buy An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole HERE.

You can see more of her other books HERE.

You can follow her on Twitter HERE or on Instagram HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Concourse by Santino Hassell with Avocado Tostones and Aperol Spritz

30364779It’s Friday! And man this book made my week. For real, between studying for finals and this fuckery with congress things were looking grim, but Santino saved the day. I’m just going to say it from the get go, this book is my favorite in the series so far. I loved it SO MUCH.  I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the intensity. I literally lost all feeling in my hands from holding my kindle so hard while reading it on the BX12 bus…I don’t know if it was just all too much, what with reading about the Bronx (Fun Fact: not many books set in the Bronx out there), while being IN the Bronx, and then Ashton making me cry while also being super hot with Val…Good LORD. This book IS IT, guys. Concourse, is the fifth book in Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs Series, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and honestly with as much as I’ve loved the other books, I could not envision a book that could top them. And yet, here we are, with Ashton and Val, Santino achieved the Holy Grail of good romance, the perfect combination of angst, top notch chathartic erotica, and enough swoon worthy moments to fell a sperm whale. I won’t even go into my feelings about Santino’s writing, I already waxed poetic about that in my review of Insight. Before I get to the story though, let’s talk food!

OK! So, this book, as I mentioned, was amazing, and Ashton is now my favorite person, so what to make for him and Val?! They are both so delicious, and there are lots of foodie things happening in the book, so there was definitely inspiration, lots of possibilities. In the end I decided to make my own version of the infamous Avocado Toast that Ashton makes for Val in the beginning of the book. However, since the story is set in the Bronx and I AM Dominican, I gave the whole thing a twist.  I made these boys Avocado Tostones (See what I did there?!).  For those who don’t know tostones (or have spent any time north of 137th street in Manattan), a toston, is a crispy plantain fritter. They are delicious, and go perfectly with avocado and limey things. To make the recipe extra fancy for Ashton, I made quick pickled red onions and a cilantro pesto for garnish. These little avocado bites  are seriously delish, and go perfectly with the champagne cocktail I selected. Which leads us to the alcoholic beverage for this book…

Since summer is near, I made an Aperol Spritz, one of my go to sunny day drinks. Aperol is an Italian aperitif (pre-dinner drink), very popular during warm months.  It is delicious mixed with prosecco, and a slice of orange. I can literally picture Ashton downing these all day long sitting in an outdoor cafe, while forcing Val to take sips. Guys this recipe and cocktail pair is a total WIN!!! Perfect for reading Val and Ashton’s romance. But now back to the story…

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This book worked for me at many levels. The connection between Val and Ashton was so intense and raw that every scene with them together felt electric. In so many ways this this is a classic trope, friends to lovers, prince and pauper romance. And yet, Santino took to it another level and crafted a character driven, stunning love story with, with a strong sense of place.

Val and Ashton have been friends forever. Val’s mom was Ash’s nanny, and they sort of grew up together, even though their worlds were completely different. Ash was always the black sheep in his wealthy family, the outcast, so Val, his mom and sister took him under their wing and gave him the affection he never got from his own flesh and blood. Ashton has always loved Val, and Val has always loved Ashton, but now that they are grown ups (well sort of), their lives are still too different, Ashton is a wealthy Instagram NYC celebutante and Val is an amateur boxer that drives cabs during the day to put this sister through school. They might as well be on different planets. And yet they are each other’s touchstone. They just can’s seem get past all those differences though, and even if there is history and genuine affection between them, they don’t seem to know how to come together.

Ashton’s character made this book for me, his vulnerability and his yearning to be SEEN, to be wanted by someone for who he really was, man it was heartbreaking. His character was rendered with such nuance and feeling, I wanted to weep for him. And yet, he was bright and funny, gave as good as he got from Val. Val was the stoic protector, and yet in the end he had to be saved too, and what saved him was Ashton. Then there’s the sex…The chemistry between these two was some next level shit, I mean how do you even do hotness, angst and humor ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Every scene with Val and Ashton was delicious, and felt so genuine.

I can’t do a review about this series without going to the setting. There are no superlatives that come to mind that are enough to convey how much Santino’s portrayal of NYC affects me. To see every borough treated with the care that he does, and to show ALL the parts which make this city the amazing place it is, makes me kind of weepy to be honest. I love his writing, but this series, these New York City stories? They’re his sweet spot.

Finally, the cast of characters and squads that he’s brought to life made their appearances and I thankfully it seems like there is more to come from this universe. I can’t wait.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book and the entire series.

Now the recipes!

Avocado Tostones with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Pesto

Ingredients

Tostones

2 plantains (if at all possible purchase at C-Town, they have the best plantains! ;))

5 tablespoons of canola oil

salt to taste

Avocado Mash

2 Avocados

Juice of one lime

1 garlic clove minced

1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Pickled Onion

1 red onion thinly sliced

1 jalapeno thinly slice

1/2 cup of red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Cilantro Pesto

1 cup of cilantro

1/3 cup of oil

1 clove of garlic minced

juice of one lemon

1/3 cup of oil

Directions

  1. Picked onions, put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Avocado Mash. Mash avocados in a bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Cilantro Pesto. Pulse all ingredients in food processor until well blended.IMG_0394
  4. Tostones. Peel the plantain (if you don’t know how, click here.) and cut into half inch slices. Heat oil in a skillet, when hot start frying the plantains, fry them until they start to look yellow and brown. Take out of pan, and smash each slice until they are flat (look like a cookie). Once you have flattened them all return to the oil for a second fry. Once they are brown and crispy, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.IMG_0393.JPG
  5. To make your avocados tostones, spoon a dollop of the mash onto the toston, top with a few pickled onion slices. Add a bit of the pesto, and if you’re feeling really frisky top that with a bit of feta cheese. SO GOOD.

Once you have your tostones, pop that prosecco and top your glass with a bit of the Aperol. You will be in heaven with this book,  recipe,  and cocktail combo. I GUARANTEE IT! Also the left over cilantro pesto and pickled onions are DYNAMITE on top of street style tacos…My dude just eats the onions by the spoonful, they are so good.

Alright guys hope you enjoy the book, and the food and drink!

You can buy Concourse HERE.

You can buy the rest of the Five Borough Series HERE.

You can read more about Santino Hassell HERE or visit his Patreon HERE.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Snow and Winter Series by CS Poe with a winner Rose

29759618I discovered C.S. Poe‘s “Snow and Winter” Series after I read, “Joy” a novella she recently published with Dreamspinner press. I  really liked “Joy” and as one does, upon discovering a good “new to me” author I went looking for a back list. What I discovered were two recently published mystery novels, “The Mystery of Nevermore” and “The Mystery of the Curiosities”.  The heroes of the stories are, crotchety New York City antiques dealer Sebastian Snow and closeted NYPD Detective Calvin Winter. These two are adorable together, and kept me on my toes with all the trouble they got into and boy, could they accumulate the dead bodies! I loved both books and I am glad to hear there will be more from Snow and Winter in the future.

Before I get into further into the books, let’s talk wine. I had gone back and forth between a strong red or something else for this post, mostly because the stories are set in a NYC winter and red goes quite well with the bone splitting cold that NYC can serve up during that season. However, as I was browsing one of regular wine purchasing spots, I found that Dark Horse Wines has a come out with a rose, and the label reads “Dry.Bright.Crisp.”, how cold I pass that up? It basically sums up Sebastian Snow in three words! Now I love me some Dark Horse and this rose is as delicious, as the label says it is. Crisp, very bright, great flavor, and a bottle goes for $9.99. I will be getting more bottles of this over the summer for sure!

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Now the books! C.S. Poe is a Josh Lanyon fan, and that comes through in the stories. I would not go as far as calling them an homage to the “Adrien English Series”, but those of us who are staunch fans of Jake and Adrien, will be hit with a bit of nostalgia when reading Calvin and Sebastian’s romance. That is as far as it goes though, these novels stand very solidly on their own, and they are full of curious and interesting little twists that make them quite unique.

In the first novel of the series, “The Mystery of Nevermore”, we meet our heroes Sebastian and Calvin when they are thrust into a bizarre murder mystery with a serial killer who seems to have an unnatural obsession with Edgar Allan Poe. Sebastian is NOT a professional when it come to solving murders, but this minor detail does not slow him down in the slightest, much to Calvin’s chagrin.  He is out to get himself killed trying to figure out this puzzle, and he does let a few near death experiences deter him from that end!

These two are hilarious and very intense together, and as much as the stories have a high content of humor and geeky cuteness, also C.S. Poe brings some serious matters into her story and does them quite well. Severe trauma in romance/mystery is something that is used freely in the genre, and yet it is done well VERY seldom. I think C.S. does a commendable job of rendering the effects of trauma and what PTSD looks like. Calvin and Sebastian have a lot to overcome if they want to be together, and C.S. Poe by giving us an authentic outlook of what that may entail, gives us a love story that feels a lot more genuine.

In the second novel, “The Mystery of the Curiosities”, is another twisty mystery where we are regaled with an infinite amount of obscure information about the business of the curious and macabre. I thought this story was highly entertaining, if a bit bloodthirsty, then again if I wanted tame, I would not go for the murder mysteries right?! In this story, we get deeper into Calvin and Sebastian’s lives, we learn more about them, and get a better sense of how things are between them. We also get more of some of their supporting cast of characters, Sam the shop assistant (hopefully Sebastian’s sidekick in future stories!), as well as Pop, who really is a gem of a parent. All in all I loved both books and want a lot more of all these characters in hopefully the not so distant future!

I HIGHLY recommend these novels, and suggest you got get them if you have not read them yet.

You can buy one or both books in Snow and Winter Series HERE.

You can read more about C.S. Poe HERE.

Happy Monday everyone, Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

 

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers with Savory Scones

34093599I don’t have the skills to impress upon the page the level of joy I felt when I saw that Joanna Chambers was back with a historical romance, all I can say is that the joy was substantial.  Joanna’s Enlightenment Series is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing just works for me. Her novels are exquisitely set, they always have pointed commentary on the issues of the time, and most importantly her love stories are gorgeous to read.

“A Gathering Storm” is exactly the kind of novel I have come to expect from JC, smart, well researched, and with a solid and lovely romance. But, before I get to the review, I’ll share the recipe!

What could I make for this story? A historical sent in Britain…Scones, of course! I love me a good scone and I don’t think I’ve read a novel by Joanna that does not feature a delicious scone at some point, so I thought it would be fitting. So, I made savory Wild Ramps (wild ramps are a wild spring onion that grows here in the Northeast, it is also know as wild leek in some places) and Gruyere scones to go with this book, and I know I am biased, but they are to die for.  Delicious, crumbly and the subtle garlic/onion taste of the ramps with the Gruyere is just YUM. I made a double batch and it they did not last through the day…

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Now the book…As I said before I think Joanna Chambers is one of the best historical romance writers out there. What I loved about this story, in particular,  is that she gives us two heroes with a lot of insecurities and a bit of callousness, but who  are so genuine in their search for ways to be good to each other. I love a story where people are just people, you know? Most of us would like to think that in the face of certain circumstances, true love or adversity, we will be our better selves, but the reality is that most times, we are just our human selves. That does not mean we are not truly questing to be the best we can be for the one we love.

So Ward and Nick…Ward is fixated on finding a way to gain some connection to his dead brother, even when it comes at the cost of his own reputation. He is adrift without his brother and losing the one person who made him feel known. Nick has never belonged anywhere, his mother, the only person who he had a real connection to is now gone, an he is also adrift.  Finding each other gives both Nick and Ward a place to be anchored.  And yet, they are so different, their birth and stations in life are so distant from each other.

One of the things I love about this novel, is that is does not sugarcoat the disparity between Nick and Ward. They were born to very different circumstances, and this has shaped their worldview.  Nick is guarded and cautious, because he knows a man like him is at the mercy of the will of those who have a higher station than him. Ward expects the world to bend to his will.  Yet, they can still fill the empty spaces in each other. What made this novel so good for me, was how true the emotions felt. It was almost like that supernatural plane that Ward was so preoccupied with was always there for him to find, he just had to fall in love.

Lots to love here, the happy ending is locked tight, the erotica is solid and the book will read again very nicely I reckon…So, get the book and make some scones!

For the recipe:

Wild Ramps and Gruyere Scones (Adapted from Not Derby Pie Blog)

1 3/4 cup flour, plus some extra for rolling
1 tablespoon & 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Shredded Gruyere
1/4 cup chopped ramps (or very finely chopped chives)
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing scones
1/4 cup buttermilk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Put bowl in freezer for 5 minutes to chill the flour. Then beat the mixture on low speed if using a mixer) until the butter is broken up into pebble-sized pieces, about 3 minutes.

Add the cheese and ramps. Then pour heavy cream and buttermilk into the bowl and mix just until dough comes together. Scone dough can be very sticky, so make sure you have a well floured surface to knead. Don’t knead too long, just enough to get the dough into a ball. Mold the dough into one or two disks, and refrigerate about 2 hours or stick in the freezer for 15 minutes.
IMG_0170Preheat oven to 375. Roll out disk on lightly floured surface to form one 7-inch round or two 3-4-inch rounds. Cut 12 slices from the large round or 6 wedges from each of the smaller rounds, and arrange on a baking sheet (no need to leave much room between the scones). Brush with cream (this will aid the browning process).

Bake about 20 minutes, until golden on top and browned on the bottom. Serve warm with some butter, I also had a bit of ramp pesto at hand and it was delicious.

Enjoy the book and the scones! Come back and let me know how they turned out!

You can buy “A Gathering Storm” HERE.

You can read about, and buy Joanne Chambers back list HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Social Justice in Romance Series: J.E. Birk Talks Balancing Light Romance with Serious Topics

33632459In  her second novel, “Dating Ryan Alback”, J.E. Birk blends a pretty serious issue into what is for all intents and purposes a sweet and light romance. In her story, Jason, one of the main characters is a public high school teacher in Colorado. He is also trying very hard to start a nonprofit that will provide support to students whose parents have either been deported or are at risk of deportation due to their immigration status. When I read the novel, I was struck by how deeply J.E. went into the issue of immigration and how our current policies are disrupting and some times tearing apart families, all over the country.

When I decided to explore the presence of social justice themes in romance, I wanted to intentionally look at topics that were not about LGBT rights. I think it is important to broaden the outlook of the social justices issues that fit in romance, and that there there are vast numbers of ways in which injustice and oppression can intersect in a person’s life.

Immigration or the treatment of undocumented  persons in the U.S. is a topic that comes up occasionally in romance. An though it is a tricky subject, I think the authors who choose to write about it do so because it has somehow touched their lives personally. I think this makes a difference in how the story is approached.  They  seem authentic and heartfelt.

The topic of immigration has been a hot one for awhile now in this country. I found it particularly brave for J.E., a newer author, to decide to go with this story line. So I asked a couple of questions about why she went in this direction with her second novel.

Here is what J.E. had to say…

The Tipsy Bibliophile: In your latest novel, “Dating Ryan Alback”, one of your two main characters is a public high school teacher, on the side he is working on starting a nonprofit that will support kids who have undocumented parents. What struck me the most about this, was not just that you chose to put forth such a controversial issue in our country right now, but that it was such an important part of the story. You could have been vague about what the program was about, who it would help, and it would have still made the character likable. Why was it important to you to highlight this issue to the degree that you did?

J.E. Birk: That’s a great question. The weird thing is that I never even considered making the nonprofit vague. Jason teaches in southwest Denver, where I used to teach, and this issue was/is hugely important to students and the entire community there. It just made sense to me that Jason, who cares deeply for his students, would tackle this particular issue if he was going to start any kind of nonprofit in that area.

I’ll never forget the first time one of my students told me their mother had just been deported and they were worried they’d never see her again. A lot of my teaching life is in Jason, so he too has never been able to forget that moment.

 TTP: As a romance reader (and an social justice advocate IRL) I am always surprised when social justice topics are done well in the stories I read. However it is not a common practice to explore these issues in romance. Do you think there is more space in the to explore injustices and difficult topics?

J.E. Birk: Many people have asked why I chose to add this subplot to a story which is largely very fluffy and feel-good in nature. I personally think social injustices should be explored everywhere, especially in the books we read more for entertainment and escape purposes…because when we read those books we are at our most relaxed. We’re more likely to be able to separate ourselves from the politics and simply consider the issue on a humane and real-world level. I too love when romance novels tackle social justice topics, and I actively seek those novels out when I’m looking for my next read.


Like I mentioned earlier this theme has been occasionally done in gay romance. Most recently Heidi Cullinan went deeply into it in her sequel to “Dance With Me”, “Enjoy The Dance”. I think this another book that does this topic justice, and recommend it highly.

If you would like to read “Dating Ryan Alback” you can buy it HERE.

If you want to know a little bit more about immigration and how you could help organizations that are assisting families. the ACLU has great resources and information HERE.

Thank you for reading my Social Justice In Romance Series, if you this is the first post you read, there are three earlier posts which explore other social justice themes to read, you can start HERE.

Thank you to Roan Parrish, KJ Charles and J.E. Birk for the amazing conversation, and I hope this has sparked some chats within our community of readers and authors.

My hope is to do a series like every month…My next one will be on Trauma. How do authors research and write characters with severe trauma? So stay tuned!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

Social Justice in Romance Series: KJ Charles talks Political Heroes and Representation in Historical Romance

25241403In her book “A Seditious Affair” KJ Charles gives us a torrid and intense love story between two men who see the world from totally opposing sides. Their views on how society should work, and what justice means are like night and day.

The “opposites attract” trope is tried and true in romance, and yet the story KJ presented to us unusual, it goes deeply into class injustice,  and the atrocities that can be committed by an oppressive state in the name of “the greater good”.  She also explores, the idea that even if two people are on completely opposite sides, common values like respect, decency and loyalty can bridge those differences.

Silas and Dominic are fervent in their political beliefs, they live and die by them. Silas fights to end the oppression his people are living under, even if by doing so, he risks his own life. Dominic staunchly defends the system that he believes is the only way to maintain “social order”, and yet they fall in love. In these the days of polarization and partisanship the idea that two men can come together and find common ground by valuing each other as human beings is almost magical.  The proposition that being humble enough to listen and try to understand the other side can bring healing and unity is very powerful. So, I reached out to KJ and asked her if she could talk a little bit about Silas and Dominic, and why she decided to build her love story on such rocky ground.

I also wanted to ask KJ about her stories with people of color. As much as I love gay romance, and I do love it VERY MUCH, something that is not done very often (or well unfortunately) are characters of color. In historical romance specifically it’s practically unheard of,  yet in KJ’s books POC are often represented and in two of her recent stories they are the main characters. I wanted to hear from her why it was important to have people of color in her novels, and to speak about how she went about writing these characters as a white woman.

Here is what KJ had to say…

The Tipsy Bibliophile: In “A Seditious Affair” and other books, you make a point of exploring class injustice and oppression at very deep levels, you expose the hypocrisy of such systems, even at the expense of your own heroes. Romance is supposed to be an escape, you know, “light reading”. What do you say to that? Do you find that your readers react to those elements of your story in particular, if so, do those reactions surprise you?

KJ Charles: It’s funny: people say ‘don’t talk about politics’ and ‘romance should be escapist’. But actually “Seditious Affair”, my most overtly political book, is probably the book that’s got the most intense love from readers. And I think that’s *because* of the politics. For one thing, fighting an unjust system is an absolutely real and brutal conflict, not a fantasy one, and that raises the stakes on the romance hugely. For another, I think passionate dedication to doing the right thing and making the world better is pretty damn sexy. And frankly, at the moment, I’d say two politically opposed people falling in love and learning to listen to and understand each other’s views is about as big a fantasy as you can get.

My heroes in that book both have deeply held senses of right and wrong, and they both have to compromise beyond comfort to be with the other, without losing their souls. I did not expect readers to get quite so hooked on radical politics 1819-20, but…well, it’s a fascinating time, an evident matter of injustice, and I think readers like to learn from their books; I certainly do.

The set-up of that book involves one hero very much on the wrong side of history–he works for a government that is actively trying to suppress calls for democracy, in ways that seem grossly unjust. What I tried to do was show how a basically decent man could do those things–because, you know, I don’t think it helps to present the people we disagree with as villains as a matter of course. Sometimes people support unjust systems out of cowardice, selfishness and greed, but sometimes it’s a matter of different world views. Dominic, in my book, is a Tory who opposes enfranchising the working man. That doesn’t mean he hates poor people: it means that, like many men of his time, he believes in a hierarchical society, and in the responsibility of those at the top. He thinks there is a God-given order to things, which includes a ruling class, and that democracy would lead to anarchy, chaos and murder, as in the relatively recent bloodshed of the French Revolution. We might now not find a lot to agree with in those views. But it’s worth noting that the great anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce was a Tory who opposed any enfranchisement for the working classes, even as he dedicated his life to ending enslavement. He didn’t think the Government should do anything for the poor; he near bankrupted himself personally giving charity to individuals. It isn’t always a simple matter of right and wrong where one person has to change his mind, and I think readers appreciate the nuance of that in books because they see it around them every day.
The Tipsy Bibliophile: I am as you know, a BIG fan of your writing, and as a person of color in an interracial marriage, I have been very interested, and pleased, with your interracial stories like “Wanted, A Gentleman” and “An Unseen Attraction”. Specially because they are so rare in gay romance, and practically unheard of when it comes to historicals. This is very delicate ground to tread on. So much can go wrong! Why is it important for you to write these stories? What was different for you in writing them?

KJ Charles:  I feel passionate about including POC in my stories because I am sick to death of seeing my city’s history whitewashed. There have been POC recorded in London since records began. I think the version of Victorian or Regency London where everyone is white and upper class isn’t just untrue, it’s painfully limited and honestly not that interesting. Opening out romance to variety of race, religion, occupation, class, gender and sexuality has produced most of my favourite historicals, and so many wonderful new stories. As a white author I am vividly aware of the importance of doing my research, representing with respect and as much historical accuracy as I can, and all I can say is, I’ll try my best to get characters and stories right. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a white-only version of London because I don’t live in a white-only version of London.

I am in no way an expert but it does seem like the US and UK have very divergent historical attitudes when it comes to interracial marriage, because of course we have very different histories.  I’ve seen Americans assume that the UK had laws against mixed race marriages, which has never been the case. There are an absolute ton of mixed marriages recorded throughout London’s history, as one might expect for a port city and capital of empire, and that’s something I’ve reflected in my books as a matter of course. (Obviously we don’t have written records of queer relationships in the same way we do m/f marriages, but I think it’s fair to extrapolate the social attitudes.)

You can buy “A Seditious Affair” HERE.
You can buy KJ’s interracial romances “Wanted, A Gentleman” and “A Unseen Attraction” HERE.
Another historical series that explores class injustice incredibly well, please look for Joanna Chambers’ “Enlightment Series”. It is an AMAZING historical and an education on Scottish history. You can find the series HERE.
A few other novels with interracial couples that delve into racial justice that I LOVE are:
“Bolt Hole” by Amy Lane, you can find it HERE. 
“Other Side of the Line” by Margaritte Labbe. (this story explores the segregation and civil rights movement in the US, and it is WONDERFUL), you can find it HERE.
“Death of a Blues Angel” by Sarah Black (ANYTHING BY SARAH BLACK!), you can find it HERE.
“But My Boyfriend Is” by K.A. Mitchell, you can find it HERE.
Thanks so much for reading, and please let me know of any other romances which explore these themes that you love!
Come back tomorrow for my interview with author J.E. Birk where we talk about her decision to explore the struggle of undocumented families.
Cheers and Happy Reading!