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Theo Fenraven on *Three of Swords* and letting characters speak

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An old houseboat, a hot young guy, a couple of murders, and more mysterious keys than you can shake a stick at: this is what awaits Gray Vecello after his grandfather, Graham, is killed on his way to pick up high blood pressure pills.

A letter Graham left behind sends Gray and his unexpected ally, Cooper Key, on a journey downriver in an attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding an unknown treasure. On the way, they encounter both friends and enemies, one of whom will target Gray and Cooper for death. One thing working in Gray’s favor: he has the sight, just as Graham had, but will it be enough to save them both?

Theo Fenraven has tried his hand at many professions since leaving school, almost none of which he was qualified for. He figured the worst that could happen was he’d be fired. Currently, he’s editing manuscripts for a popular online publisher. He’s also a published writer of romance, erotica, mysteries, and thrillers.

He’s acquired lots of hobbies along the way. In his youth, he hung out with musicians, sang, and learned to write music and play the guitar. He’ll still burst into song at parties if he’s lubricated enough. Then there was the time he tried horse breaking and nearly broke his neck on one hell of a rank gelding, but he survived and went on to caving, rock climbing, and, when friends bought a twenty inch ‘scope, astronomy. His biggest passion these days is photography, and he often posts his photos on his blog.

You can read more about Fen at his blog, http://theofenraven.wordpress.com, or say hi to him on twitter, @fenraven.

The Interview

Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: Not surprisingly, minor character names come to me out of nowhere. Main character names, however, require much thought and agonizing over. It took me a while to come up with Talis Kehk for Phoenix Rising, but in retrospect, that name was worth every moment I spent thinking it up. And Artemis? That was borrowed from my favorite name and character in the original Wild Wild West: Artemis Gordon. Using that name was a tribute to him. As for book titles, I’m never quite pleased with them. I just do the best I can.

Q: In what locale is your most recent book set? How compelling was it to set a story there? Do you choose location the same way every time? How?
A: Three of Swords, is mostly set in Red Wing MN, on a houseboat. I’m familiar with and love the area. During the course of the story, the MCs travel downriver. To give the journey the proper flavor, it helped I had visited many times.

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line? That depends on the story, but often, I let the characters lead via dialog. They say things that suggest twists and turns and I gleefully follow while controlling the overall direction of the plot.

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: I portray all gay relationships as utterly normal. To me, they are no different from straight or other relationships. Genitals may vary from couple to couple, but always, there is affection and hopefully, deep love.

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A: At this point in my writing career, no. Although I have had readers ask me for sequels to stories that contain their favorite characters.

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: Friendly but respectful. I like maintaining a distance between me and readers. In fact, I insist on it. While I am deeply appreciative of them―let’s face it, without them I am nothing!―my personal life is my own and I prefer to keep it that way.

Q:What do you find useful about reviews?
A: Reviews that are positive light me up inside. Reviews that are less glowing give me something to think about. As a writer, I can always improve and thoughtful criticism helps me do that.

Q: I’m well known for demanding to know an author’s opinion about which of their characters is the sexiest, and I’m making no exception for this group. Who, how, and why?
A: All my characters are sexy. LOL My favorites are always the ones I’m currently writing, and that would be Cooper Key and Gray Vecello, an unlikely pairing that becomes more endearing by the day. I’m currently working on the sequel to Three of Swords, and I’m having fun revealing more of their past to readers.

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: Wow. That’s tough! ‘Sexy’ varies from person to person. For no real reason at all, I think this brief bit from Numbers is sexy.

Bracing the phone on my shoulder, I yanked the zipper down, pushed the denim out of my way, and reached inside my underwear to wrap fingers around a cock so hard, it hurt. “Tell me….”

“Every time you answered one of those number questions, I wanted to push my tongue down your throat. My favorite? Sixty-nine.”

Q: What are you doing now, what do plan to write next?
A: The Precog in Peril series will initially contain three books. After that, I’m not sure where I’ll go. I have no lack of ideas and I certainly plan to write many stories.

Excerpt from Three of Swords

It was raining the day we buried my grandfather. I twisted the program in my hands until it started to shred, keeping my eyes down and tuning out the pastor’s words about what a great man Graham Vecello had been. He’d never known him, but I had.
Grandpa Graham had been a holy terror to everyone in the family. He never just talked; he sniped and snarked and growled behind his whiskers. They told me he hadn’t been like that when Lizzie, his wife, had still been around, but after she died young, he’d gradually become meaner and more distant, and then he sold his farm, bought a houseboat, and retreated into weighty silence.

Mom and Dad continued inviting him to join us for major holidays, but nine times out of ten, he didn’t bother showing up, and the infrequent times he did, he sat in a dark corner glowering at the noisy young kids and leaving right after dinner. He scared the shit out of me, and after he disappeared into his watery hermitage, I was glad to forget him.
Mom placed a hand over mine, stilling them, and I sighed and shifted in the hard seat, wondering how much longer this would last. Gramps had been an asshole. I doubted anyone would miss him much, not even my father, who’d been the oldest of Gramps’s and Lizzie’s three boys.

The turnout for his funeral was small, and those who got up to talk about his life were few in number, so sooner than I expected, we trooped to the graveyard, where the pastor did some more talking, the clod of dirt was thrown onto the casket, and people finally drifted away as the diggers started filling in the hole.

Sharing a bright red umbrella, my parents lingered, and as a show of support, so did I, but I was already thinking about what I wanted for dinner and wondering if I should hit a couple bars tonight, hook up with some friends. Flipping up the collar of my leather jacket, I huddled deeper inside it while slipping cold hands into the pockets. Spring was cool and wet this year, and I was looking forward to the warmth of May.

Mom and Dad outstayed everyone, even the guys who covered the casket, but finally, we were alone, and they decided they could leave without censure. They’d put in their time, they’d shown everyone how much Grandpa Graham had meant to them, even if the last time they’d seen him had been four months ago.

Hell, how could they have known he’d get shot picking up his blood pressure pills at the drugstore? Wrong place, wrong time. They hadn’t caught the guy yet, either, and chances were good they never would. No witnesses, no weapon at the scene. Instant cold case.
We reached the cars, and I stopped beside mine, one hand on the door. “I don’t need to come back to the house, do I?”

They gave me matching frowns, and Dad said, “You haven’t been by in a while.”
Mom said, “You have to eat and there’s plenty of food.” Her eyes swept me critically. “You’re too thin, Gray. Have some dinner, talk with your relatives. Harper will be there.”

I liked cousin Harper. We were only a year apart in age; she was twenty-eight and I was twenty-seven. She came out my last year of high school. It took me somewhat longer.
I could stand to see Harper. “Okay.” I unlocked the door and pulled it open.
Mom had gone on with the umbrella, but Dad tarried. “You okay? Is there anything bothering you?”

I refused to meet his eyes. “Not a thing. See you at home.”

I slid behind the wheel and brushed rain-wet black hair out of my eyes, watching through the windshield as Dad joined mom in their sensible Toyota hybrid.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was that I’d known for two weeks Grandpa Graham, after whom I was named, was going to die, and I hadn’t done a single thing to stop it.

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Tia Fielding on *Technically Dead* and how shifters belong in Finland

Click on the cover image to buy the book at the Dreamspinner store.

When Brandon Roland’s parents kicked him out for being gay, he turned to prostitution to get by—something that almost cost him his life when he was attacked by strangers. Bran was saved by a vampire named Heath, and during their year together, Bran’s life was good—but then Heath sent him packing for reasons unknown.

That was twelve years ago, and Bran’s come a long way since then. He has an education, a job as a social worker at a vampire/human youth shelter, friends, and a tattoo he adds to annually to commemorate another year without the love of his life.

The trouble with being a very old vampire is that the older you are, the less you feel. Heath is over nine hundred—he was sure he’d never experience emotion again, but he never counted on Bran. When Heath accidentally stumbles back into Bran’s life, it changes more than either man thought possible—and then history literally catches up with them and turns their lives inside out.

Tia Fielding is a Finnish M/M-author, published by Dreamspinner Press. She hails from a middle-of-nowhere town surrounded by nature and dislikes cities with vigor. Because of this, she’s writing a shifter-series with the forests of eastern Finland as the backdrop. While she hasn’t picked one sub-genre within the genre, it will always be vampires that have her heart. When she’s not writing, Tia likes to read, watch her shows (but no soaps, please!) and she’s always ready to try out a new computer game.

Website and blog: http://www.tiafielding.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tiafielding
Twitter: @tiafielding

The Interview
Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: Character names are important, I tend to name characters after people or based on meanings. Sometimes I pick a name at random, oftentimes the characters pop up in my head with “Hi I’m X.” It sounds crazy, but a lot of characters do that for a lot of writers. Story titles are different. Sometimes there’s a name that just pops up while I write, other times I ask the editors if they have ideas. For example “Technically Dead” was purely my title, while Tiglon By The Tail was a collaboration between myself and the editing team.

Q: In what locale is your most recent book set? How compelling was it to set a story there? Do you choose location the same way every time? How?
A: I’ve been writing my shifter series lately, so the locale is dear to my heart in so many ways. The series takes place in eastern Finland, which is basically where I live myself. I know the place, I have special insight to it, and it was clear that if I ever wrote shifters I’d want to have them live here. Now, writing book 3, it’s pretty much obvious readers are enjoying the setting as much as I do.

Locations just click. Occasionally I write about places I want to know more about and research to satisfy my curiosity, but mostly I grab hold of settings I see online or have been to. That said, I’ve never been to the US, so I do have to research a lot!

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line?
A: Pretty much all the power is theirs. It won’t work if I try to pressure or steer them. They keep surprising me quite often. For example, recently I was writing something and suddenly one of the main characters blurted out he had a son. I hadn’t known about that and it totally added a new element to the plot! Sometimes I have to say things like “You’re so not having sex yet!” or stomp my foot when they try to cut corners, but yeah, I have to admit 95% of the story comes from the characters.

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: Probably the fact that I’m GLBTQ myself and since I don’t care about writing M/F or F/F, it still gives me a way to write something that’s close to my heart, stuff I’ve at least partially lived through at some point or have seen friends go through around me. It also gives me a way to set things straight with the universe if I think something that was “done wrong” to me just because who I am can be used in a good way in a story. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me! ^^

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A:Sometimes. I love reader feedback so much that I try to listen to it. If it’s constructive in any way, I try and remember what they said and while I don’t write to meet people’s expectations, I do think it’s always important to listen.

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: As an author I’d love to get more emails from people who enjoy my stories. They give me a boost to write much more than the random positive review does. I would also like to add that readers should always rate the books they like either on Amazon or Goodreads (or wherever they bought the book) just because it adds to visibility. Oh and readers actually buying (and not pirating) the books makes us authors happy.

Q: What do you find useful about reviews?
A: Constructive criticism. If the critique is made in a way that doesn’t seem mean or petty or just outright bullying, then it’s useful.

Q: I’m well known for demanding to know an author’s opinion about which of their characters is the sexiest, and I’m making no exception for this group. Who, how, and why?
A: Oh no… this is a bad, bad question…. I’d have to say Heath first, my vampire in Technically Dead. He’s hot because I know him so well in my head. I also think Thom in By Any Other Name is a total sweetheart and sexy as hell. But I tend to find all my characters hot one way or another so this is a tricky question!

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: This is the beginning of my favorite scene (which is later mirrored in the book as well, so it has a lot of meaning) from Technically Dead. It starts from page 33 in the book. As such, this isn’t much as I tried to keep it short, but what happens after this bit… 😉

An hour later, Bran was pleasantly buzzed, very turned on, and he had a twink rubbing his ass against Bran’s crotch on the dance floor. So maybe Bran was a bit older at thirty-two, but this guy didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, if there hadn’t been layers of leather and denim between them, Bran would have been inside the kid by now.

Q: What are you doing now, what do plan to write next?
A: I’m struggling through the third Finnshifters book at the moment. It’s been something I’ve worked on for a while now and my depression likes to mess with my creativity. The next hurdle will be NaNoWriMo, and I’m going to write outside my element (although still M/M) and that should be fun! We’ll see if anything publishable comes out of it this year, but at least I’ve tried. 🙂

An Excerpt from Technically Dead

An hour later, Bran was pleasantly buzzed, very turned on, and he had a twink rubbing his ass against Bran’s crotch on the dance floor. So maybe Bran was a bit older at thirty-two, but this guy didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, if there hadn’t been layers of leather and denim between them, Bran would have been inside the kid by now.

“Shit,” he hissed, feeling the leisurely roll of the firm bubble butt against his cock.

The kid tossed him a cheeky look over his shoulder, then stepped away and headed for the back rooms. Okay, then…. He didn’t bother adjusting himself—the leather was tight enough not to be comfortable before he actually got rid of the boner, and he had no intention of letting it wait for much longer.

Bran followed the twink into the back room and saw him leaning on a wall near the back. It was a spot surrounded by mixed couples, vampires and humans. Well, if the twink got his rocks off by seeing some bloodsucking happen, who was Bran to deny him?

In less than thirty seconds, he found his back pressed against the wall, his leather pants opened, and his cock being sucked very enthusiastically by the kid. A male vampire sucking a guy’s neck only an arm’s length away from Bran finished his feeding just as the human came almost violently all over the vampire’s fingers.
Bran knew why the guy looked so dazed. He knew so well…. The rush you got from the bite was what led people into trouble. It had led Bran to trouble and heartache.
The boy moaned around his cock and made Bran’s thoughts snap back to the action happening below his waist.

The vampire and the human turned to look at them, smiling just a little. The human looked like he was having the time of his life, while the vampire licked his lips, the tips of his fangs still showing. There was a bulge in the vampire’s jeans, and for a moment Bran thought he was going to approach him. Instead, the vampire stepped closer and took a whiff of his scent, and the invisible barrier formed between them.

Bran sighed, turned his gaze away, and tried to concentrate on the warm mouth instead of wishing that the cool fingers and cock were at his disposal. Fucking hell….

“I wish I could,” the vampire suddenly whispered into his ear, his cool breath, although warmed by the blood he had just been drinking, sending sudden chills through Bran’s system. Maybe he wasn’t that good at hiding his true emotions, like the fucking omnipresent pain he felt that he couldn’t have a vampire when he craved one’s touch more than air. Bran looked at the vampire, trying to keep the pleading from his gaze; he wasn’t going to beg. Not again. He’d never sink that low again….
With a pointed look, the vampire blew cool air against Bran’s neck, and suddenly Bran came so hard only the vampire’s cold palm pressing him to the wall held him upright.

“Wow….” The man at Bran’s feet blinked up at him. “Damn, I’m good.”

Bran opened his eyes, noticed that the vampire and his human were gone, and forced a smile at the twink. “Sure, thanks…. Eh, did you…?” He was a gentleman, after all.
“Oh, yeah, man, you’re hot when you come.” The boy grinned, digging a tissue from his pocket and then wiping his hands clean.

Bran thanked him again as he did his fly up, and then headed back to the club. He didn’t have heart to tell the boy that despite his skills in cocksucking, the best orgasm Bran had had in years wasn’t due to him but the vampire whose whisper reminded him of another cool breath on his neck.

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Tinnean on *Call Me Church*, creative titling, and the lack of unexpected pregnancies in gay fiction

Click on the cover to buy this book at the Dreamspinner store.

It’s the height of the Depression, and people are desperate for a distraction from their lives. Film director Church Chetwood wants to help them forget—and he manages it with his documentaries and travelogues. But when the saber-tooth tiger he captured escapes, Manhattan’s grave situation only worsens. Now Church is facing ten years up the river.

Black Tuesday left John Smith a homeless sixteen-year-old orphan, and in the past four years he’s survived as best he could. When his path crosses Church’s, Johnny’s looking for a meal, nothing more. Surely after all he’s done, no one could love him—especially not Church, who insists he isn’t “like that.” But Church does have a plan to get away. Maybe if Johnny’s lucky, Church will let him tag along.

Tinnean has been writing since the 3rd grade, where she was inspired to try her hand at epic poetry. Fortunately, that epic poem didn’t survive the passage of time; however, her love of writing not only survived but thrived, and in high school she became a member of the magazine staff, where she contributed a number of stories.

It was with the advent of the family’s second computer – the first intimidated everyone – that her writing took off, enhanced in part by fanfiction, but mostly by the wonder that is copy and paste.

While involved in fandom, she was nominated for both Rerun and Light My Fire Awards. Now she concentrates on her original characters.

A New Yorker at heart, she resides in SW Florida with her husband and two computers.

Ernest Hemingway’s words reflect Tinnean’s devotion to her craft: Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it.

She can be contacted at tinneantoo@gmail.com, and can be found on Live Journal and on Facebook. If you’d like to sample her earlier works, they can be found at http://www.angelfire.com/fl5/tinnssinns/Welcome1.html.

The Interview
Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: This is an interesting question. I just did a blog on this very topic. Names are just as important a part of the character as eye or hair color. Yes, a rose would smell as swell, but would we be inclined to take a sniff if it was called stinkweed? I have links to naming sites online as well as the book 20,001 Names for Baby, which is really helpful in that I can find both first names and surnames from the book. What’s difficult is when names need to be changed because they’re too similar and there’s a possibility of confusing the reader. (i.e. Emma/Elle, Hughes/Hayward/Humphrey) I’ve had to come up with something else, and it takes a while to get used to the new name. One of the things I enjoy the most is playing with names. In a story I’ll post online, a character’s parents are Elizabeth and Bernard—Betty and Barney. And in another story a young woman calls her future father-in-law “Father Marcus”. After I’d written that, I wanted to change his name to William in the worst way. *g*

Regarding titles, I’ve found that I can’t write comfortably unless I have one of some sort, even something as lame as Looking for a Title. I get titles from lines of poetry (“Ah, Me! Full Sorely is My Heart Forlorn”) or songs (“Blue Champagne”, “Blue Velvet”, and “Blue Moon” and yes, that was a trilogy), although sometimes the stories name themselves, (Call Me Church for instance.) No matter how they’re named, once I’ve titled them, the title generally stays. However… (You knew there’d be a however, didn’t you?) On occasion the story itself will change its mind. A novel that will be out in February/March started life as Here Comes the Groom. From there it went to The Wedding Vow, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, and finally settled on Two Lips, Indifferent Red, which is from Twelfth Night.

Q: In what locale is your most recent book set? How compelling was it to set a story there? Do you choose location the same way every time? How?
A: Call Me Church is set in Manhattan in 1933. This was the only locale where it could take place. And that’s how it works for me: the story chooses its own location, which in some cases becomes a secondary character. Lately, though, I’ve found it’s easier to create a city (as in Two Lips) or towns where I can come up with malls, streets, schools, and even beaches.

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line?
A: Seriously? I’m just along for the ride. They’ll let me write until there’s something they object to, and then they’ll drag their heels. It can reach a point where I’m no longer enjoying what I’m doing, so I’ll have to stop and try something else until we’re all happy. It can be as simple as introducing another character, but it can be as complex as tossing out an entire chapter and starting from scratch. But you know what’s the best? It’s not written in stone that I have to continue that plot thread. I can change it as often as necessary. (And believe me, there are times when it’s really necessary!)

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: I read a lot of Harlequins back in the day, and what I find most satisfying about the gay relationships I write is: 1. There won’t be any unexpected pregnancies; 2. My characters are not simply gay, they’re people who just happen to love someone who’s the same sex; 3. I like to think that none of them are TSTL—too stupid to live; and finally 4. No unexpected pregnancies. *cough*

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A: Yes, on occasion, although the decision as to whether to go their route or not remains mine. In one story, I mentioned Character A was going to take Character B home to meet his family, and because I was tired at that point, I left it at that. Sometime later, a reader wrote me and asked what happened, and since I’d had some time to recoup, I went back and fleshed out a whole ’nother chapter. I’ll also ask on LJ. I was giving a character ringtones for his phone for the people in his life, and I asked my flist what they thought of a selection of music. Their input is valuable in that it gives me something to consider.

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: For me it would be a matter of trust. I’d like my readers to trust me enough to know that I won’t lead them down the garden path, and as a result of that they’d be willing to give whatever I write—contemporary, sci-fi, historical, even f/f— a try.

Q: What do you find useful about reviews?
A: I found a review for Fifty Shades of Grey very helpful, in that it included a list of words that were repeated ad nauseum. This led me to realize that in Two Lips, people did an awful lot of smiling: I smiled, he smiled, she smiled. I went back and reworked the majority of them, thereby fleshing out the sequences.

Q: I’m well known for demanding to know an author’s opinion about which of their characters is the sexiest, and I’m making no exception for this group. Who, how, and why?
A: This is like asking a mom who her favorite child is. (Okay, okay, but if any of my characters ask, you have to promise you’ll tell them I think they’re all sexy.) I’d have to say Mark Vincent and Quinton Mann in my Spy vs. Spook series. These two men are adults in the prime of their lives, and being in the intelligence community, they’re both competent and willing to do whatever they have to in order to protect the other. There’s also the fact that while they haven’t said those three little words, (no, not “You’re a dope.” *g*) their actions more than show it.

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: Not sure if this is what you want, but in my own work I tend to prefer what’s hinted at, so I’d have to go with this, from Yours, Jason, a novella that will be out in December.

Ben looked so good in the black suit he’d chosen that Jason couldn’t help dropping to his knees, unzipping Ben’s fly, and blowing him there in the upper level hallway.
“Whoa!” Ben leaned back against the wall, trying to catch his breath.
Jason grinned up at him and caught a stray drop of come from the corner of his mouth.

Q: What are you doing now, what do plan to write next?
A: Right now I’m working on the fourth book in the Spy vs. Spook series, called Complications. The first chapter picks up immediately after the events in the Black Coffee chapter of Not My Spook! The second chapter goes ahead seven months, and then the rest of the book should be two years down the road.

I have an idea for a western that takes place in 1870, (I’d love to name this Green Grow the Lilacs, but since that’s the play Oklahoma was based on, I’ll have to come up with something else.) and I’m giving some thought to the back story. Then there’s what I like to call my gay vampire story. *g*

There’s also the sequel to Call Me Church, which begins with them in the South Seas. This is another one that has no title as yet, but maybe something like Johnny and Church and the Search for the Treasure of the Hidden Temple? *falls down laughing*

Exerpt from Call Me Church

Chapter 1

Life during the Depression was hard. There wasn’t much to be happy about, to entertain us, so when Church ‘Chet’ Chetwood, the renowned film director, returned from the South Seas with what he claimed was the most astounding find in ten thousand years… well, everyone wanted to see it.

No one expected a throwback to the Ice Age to suddenly appear on Manhattan Island, and people stormed the box office to buy tickets.

I’d wanted so badly to go see the creature that was supposed to be extinct, but I couldn’t afford it. Well, I could barely afford to eat.

For once God was on my side, although so many others weren’t as fortunate. I wasn’t there when “Chetwood’s Kitty” somehow managed to escape from the theater where it was being exhibited.

The buildings along 42nd Street still bore splatters of dried blood from the path the giant saber-toothed tiger had taken. It had torn apart dozens of homeward-bound workers. Bodies had been disemboweled, decapitated, literally torn limb from limb. Cars had swerved to get out of the path of the infuriated creature. They’d run over pedestrians and had crashed into buildings, into the beams of the el, into buses, into one another.

A few days later, while I was scrounging in an alley, I’d come across the torso of a woman that had been somehow overlooked in the cleanup. Razor-sharp claws had shredded the shirtwaist she’d worn and the flesh beneath it, and the expression on her face revealed her pain and terror. I’d wheeled around and thrown up, although there had been little in my stomach.

The sabertooth had escaped to Central Park, and for three days the city was under martial law. That hadn’t helped the people who lived in Hooverville, in the drained reservoir. Six of them had been slaughtered before the Army had tracked down the sabertooth and fired enough rounds into it to bring it down.

I followed the story whenever I came across a discarded newspaper. The Daily News, being just a step up from a scandal sheet, had the juiciest stories. Its reporters told in gory, minute detail all the carnage that had descended upon New York City in those three days.

The survivors, as well as those who had lost loved ones, were among the many suing Church Chetwood, along with the city, the state, and the federal government, which was out to get him for bringing an unlicensed animal onto American soil.
However, no one knew where Mr. Chetwood was.

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TJ Klune on *Burn* and the voices in our heads…

A Click on the cover image takes you straight to the buy link at Dreamspinner.
Book One of the Elementally Evolved series

Set in a world that closely resembles our own, Burn is a story of redemption and betrayal, of family and sacrifice, which leads to the greatest question of all: how far would you go to save the ones you love?

Fifteen years ago, Felix Paracel killed his mother with fire that shot from his hands. Since then, he has hidden from forces bent on exploiting him and his fire and wind Elemental abilities. But Felix’s world is about to change, because he is Findo Unum-the Split One-and his coming has been foretold for generations.

Though Felix’s arrival brings great joy to the Elemental world, it also heralds a coming darkness. No one knows this better than Seven, the mysterious man who rescued Felix from that horrible fire years ago and then disappeared; Seven, who has returned to claim what’s rightfully his: Felix’s heart. But even as Felix begins to trust Seven and his feelings about his place in the world, the darkness reveals itself, bringing consequences no one could have predicted.

When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.

He lives with a neurotic cat in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s hot there, but he doesn’t mind. He dreams about one day standing at Stonehenge, just so he can say he did.

TJ’s Blog: A Fistful of Awesome.

The Interview

Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: Character names are very important to me. The names, at least to me, tell part of a story themselves. Bear, Otter, and the Kid, while nicknames, showed a bond between these three given that they named each other. I try to keep the names from being to off the wall, because I do like the sense of realism in my stories (yes, yes, I know I have a character named Seven—but trust me, there’s a specific reason he’s named that. And yeah, that’s me being a teasing asshole yet again).

As far as titles are concerned, the title is something that usually comes to me even before I start writing the story. Titles are important because in all reality, they’re the identity of the story. The only time I’ve ever changed a title to a book of mine was to the upcoming Into This River I Drown, which was originally titled Blue Ford. The story changed in such a way as I was writing it that the Blue Ford title no longer fit.

Q: In what locale is your most recent book set? How compelling was it to set a story there? Do you choose location the same way every time? How?
A: My most recently completed book is Just The Way You Are, which is set where I live, in Tucson Arizona. As much as BOATK was based upon my earlier life in Oregon, Just The Way You Are is based upon how my life is now, with some obvious creative changes. As much as I like to bitch and moan when it’s July and 110 degrees outside, there’s really no place like the desert. Tucson is such a quirky town. There are a million people here, but it’s still got a small town vibe, which I really dig. It’s a little more liberal than the rest of Arizona (which is a good thing, seeing as how the state seems to be bent on showing the rest of the country what it looks like to take one step forward and sixteen steps backward).

I choose the locations for my books based upon the scope of the story. Into This River I Drown is set in the fictional Oregon town of Rosedale, which, geographically (at least in my head) is only a couple hours’ drive from another small town: Seafare, from the BOATK stories. They don’t exist in the same universe, but I couldn’t help but to reference Seafare in ITRID. BOATK and ITRID are set in small towns because they’re meant to be small town stories, though the boys from ITRID will travel a lot further than Bear and Otter ever did.

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line?
A: As much as they want or need. I go into the majority of my works with an outline as to where I want the story to go beginning, middle and end. But more often than not, there are detours into places that I never thought about when I started. The best example of this is Into This River I Drown. The book started as an ode to my father but turned into something so much more, specifically because of the characters and the direction they wanted to go versus the direction I wanted them to go (and, it should probably be mentioned, that I can’t ignore the fact that I’m apparently a sadistic bastard who has no problem putting people through the ringer; ITRID is going to be nuts).

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the majority of authors are probably certifiable with the amount of voices we hear in our heads. I have no shame in admitting that I have conversations with my characters. I laugh with them, I argue with them. Sometimes they piss me off, other times they make me cry. But I know what each and every one of them sound like (especially the Kid—I’m pretty sure I’m stuck with him for the rest of my life, given how he never seems to go too far away. But what’s funny about him is that I hear him as being older now, knowing that his story will be coming up soon. He’s no longer nine years old to me, but almost a man; I almost feel like a parent).

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: The most satisfying part for me is that relationships happen like those we write about every day. Yeah, some of the plots can be far-fetched and may not be the most realistic thing in the world, but it always boils down to boy meets boy, boy and other boy make sex face at each other, boy and other boy then fall in love and live happily ever after forever and ever. For too long, it seemed as if GLBTQ portrayal in books and other media were all about the tragedies of being gay, either because of violence, hatred, or illness. It’s nice to be able to write and read about the realities of being gay in the 21st century. Even though there still is violence and hatred and illness, that does not have to define who we are, given that we are more than that.

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A: While I appreciate my readers more than anything, I really try to write what I want to write and not necessarily cater to others. If my readers had their way BOATK3 would be written, Burn wouldn’t have ended like it did, and Julie McKenna would have been run over by a herd of rampaging buffalo, only to survive, stand up, and then get mauled by fourteen rabid raccoons. You know you’ve done your job when you’ve written a despicable character this is universally reviled (I could try to argue here that maybe she’s just misunderstood, but that’d be a bunch of bullshit. I hate her face).

That being said, I always like to hear from readers about what they like or dislike (and you’d be surprised how many emails I get from both sides—I seem to have one of those faces where people seem to think they can tell me whatever they want, which I think is awesome…for the most part. I don’t think I ever received a higher volume of mail then when after Who We Are came out and people read about Mrs. Paquinn. I was pretty sure I was headed toward a Misery type situation right then, especially when I received an email that contained a single line: “You shouldn’t have done what you did to Mrs. P.”

Yikes.

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: In an ideal world: readers would read and writers would write, though I don’t know how practical that would be. There has to be a fair amount of interaction between the two groups. After all, books won’t sell themselves.

There’s always going to be a fine line between reader/author contact, and unfortunately, that line gets crossed on both sides more often than it should, and it seems to be happening more and more. In the days of people paying for reviews, the so-called GR bullies and people who make websites about so-called GR bullies, to authors behaving badly and the snipe and snark and viciousness on both sides, it’s a wonder the world hasn’t exploded, or at least collapsed in on itself. Maybe that’s the price (upside? downside?) of social media, that everyone is entitled to share (and can and will share) their opinion about anything or everything.

I like talking to my readers, and I do so through Facebook and GR quite often. I don’t typically comment on reviews of my books (either good or bad), because again, I don’t think the review is for me. This is knocking any other author that does that, just my personal preference. But, of course, I’d be nowhere at all without the people that have bought my books, so I love ‘em to pieces and would have all of their babies had God seen fit to give me ovaries; alas, I am but a man.

Q: What do you find useful about reviews?
A: Aside from the day a book comes out, I don’t really focus on reviews, to be honest. Reviews, at least to me, are for other readers, and not necessarily for the authors. When BOATK first came out, I obsessed about reviews for a few weeks until I realized there really was no point in it. I am eternally grateful when someone takes the time to write a review for something I wrote, no matter if it’s good or bad. I don’t think reviews are the best place to look for critique when it comes to writing. That’s what my Beta readers are for, and they kick my ass enough, and I know them well enough to know they won’t sugar coat anything.

However, I am also an avid reader and it’s an interesting position to be in, being both a published author and someone who writes reviews for books. On one hand, I am very well aware of the time and energy that goes into writing a book, and how scary it can be to let that book out into the world. On the other hand, I am very opinionated about what I read. It can be a difficult position to be in, but I like to think I’ve found a bit of middle ground with it. I won’t write reviews to books I didn’t enjoy, or even rate them, because I don’t want it to be seen as an attack on another author, but I will praise a book to high heaven if I think it awesome.

Q: I’m well known for demanding to know an author’s opinion about which of their characters is the sexiest, and I’m making no exception for this group. Who, how, and why?
A: Seven, from Burn. He’s a hardcore badass, extraordinarily possessive, and a man who is not afraid to lead his people or protect what is his. He has so many layers, the depths of which readers haven’t even seen yet. I’m starting to think that the Elementally Evolved Trilogy is about him more than anyone else, even Felix. (I know, I know: I keep teasing. But I promise, it’ll be worth the wait when Book II is finally finished.)

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: From the upcoming Just The Way You Are:

Sweat formed between us, my cock trapped against his stomach as he slid into me, creating a delicious friction that I didn’t want to push away. I felt fluid and slippery, and he growled against my neck, his breath light and quick as his hips snapped back and forth.
“I’m going,” I whispered.
“Go,” he panted.

Q: What are you doing now, what do plan to write next?
A: Now, is all about Elementally Evolved Book II: Break. I’ve got to finish that story before I can start anything else. After that, I plan on heading back to Seafare for BOATK3 (of which I’ve got a pretty good amount of the story thought up in my head—oh man, the angst that’s going to happen in Ty and Dom’s story is going to be something else, that’s for damn sure. I’m excited and dreading it all at the same time). My next release will be the previously discussed Into This River I Drown, followed pretty quickly by Just The Way You Are. I’m also working on another project, though I think I’ll keep it under wraps for now.

An Excerpt from Burn:

I turned to face the crowd behind me and was unsurprised when my stalker
smiled at me from the front of my audience. Funny, I hadn’t seen him standing there
before.

“I’m going to my home,” I called to him.

“I know where you live,” he reminded me, his voice highly amused. The people
around him suddenly looked at him with newfound respect. They hadn’t expected a
second act to this farce.

“I know, but could you just stay away?” I pleaded.

“Do you really want that?” he asked me sharply.

I thought for a moment. “Yes, I do.” My heart hammered in my chest.

“For how long?” he asked.

“You’re not giving up, are you?” I asked him, suddenly feeling very tired. Or
resigned. I didn’t know which.

“Never in your life,” he said, his deep voice rough and wonderful. “You belong
to me.”

“I don’t belong to anyone,” I told him. The heads of our audience swiveled back
and forth like they were watching a tennis match.

He cocked his head. “Oh, you most definitely do. It’ll be easier for both of us if
you just stop fighting me on it.” He flexed his arms against his massive body.

Bastard was cheating.

I grinned at him. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Come over here,” he ordered. “Now.”

I didn’t dare disobey. As I walked up to him, our audience turned their heads,
watching every step I took. I saw them only out of the corners of my eyes because I
was focused on him. I reached him and put my hands on his chest as his arms folded
around me, the top of my head barely reaching his chin. His body was hard as a rock,
and it felt like hugging human granite. He reached down and rubbed the back of my
head through the hood of my sweatshirt. I stared up at him, and he watched me back,
and I knew I couldn’t (wouldn’t) fight this again. His face lowered to mine, and his
lips brushed against my lips, and I could feel the flash inside me, the flare threatening to rise. But still, our eyes remained open, the ocean looking back at me. I gasped at a thought, a memory—the giant—but it was lost as he brushed his lips against mine again, never fully pressing, only promising. Nothing in my life had ever been more erotic than that moment: the ghosting of his mouth over mine, the feel of his body under my hands, the way he held the back of my neck. I shivered in his grip. I wanted to climb up him like the mountain he was and wrap my legs around his waist and let him rub against me in the alley. That’s why I stepped back; it’s why I stepped away.

He looked down at me, a knowing smile on his face.

“You said I was your Iuratum Cor,” I breathed at him. “And you were mine in return.”

He nodded.

“What does that mean?”

His eyes flashed. “It’s Latin. It means ‘heart sworn’. You belong to me. And I am
yours.”

I turned and ran.

“Soon, Felix,” he called after me. “I’ll see you soon.” His voice was sure,
confident.

I ran faster.

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