Tag Archives: Sand and Water

Shae Connor’s *Sand and Water*—new release from Dreamspinner

Sand & Water by Shae Connor cvr by Reese Dante
Widower John McConnell gets along fine raising his daughter on Georgia’s Tybee Island, though he wouldn’t exactly say he’s happy. Haunted by the memory of his dead wife, John hasn’t considered dating again until he meets Bryan Simmons in the park. It isn’t long before John realizes that what he feels for Bryan could be something real, but how will he know he’s ready to move on?

As John soon discovers, Bryan carries some heavy emotional baggage of his own. With John’s help, Bryan starts to put his demons to rest, and together they lay the foundation for a relationship. It looks like they might finally leave their tragedies behind them—until John takes a misstep that could turn a magical night together into their last.

Shae Connor lives in Atlanta, where she works for the government by day and reads and writes about pretty boys falling in love by night. She’s been making up stories for as long as she can remember, but it took her a long time to figure out that maybe she should start writing them down. Now, she usually has far too many stories in progress, but when she does manage to tear herself away from her laptop, she enjoys running, hiking, cooking, and traveling, not necessarily in that order.

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Author Interview: Shae Connor’s M/M Romance (a taste of the South)

Welcome to the blog, Shae. I’m happy to get a chance to peek into your brain a little bit! I’m looking forward to talking about your writing, but if you don’t mind I’d like to start by getting to know you, Shae Connor the author, a little better.

Q: Your bio says you live in Atlanta? Is that a lifelong home? The excerpts posted below from Sand and Water How does Atlanta, or the South in general, influence the tone and flavor of your writing—is there a Southern Style for M/M romance, and if so does that change how you write?
A: I was born and raised in south Georgia and first moved to Atlanta about 15 years ago. Spent a few years in New Jersey (for a job) and then moved back 5 years ago. I love Atlanta and Georgia and probably will live here forever. At least, it’ll take an extremely good offer to get me to go elsewhere!

Atlanta and the South figure into my writing mainly because I’m just so familiar with them. I know the locations, the people, the customs, and the language, and so I love setting stories in the South and populating them with Southerners. My people! 🙂

I don’t think there’s a specific “Southern Style” for M/M romance, but gay issues can be extremely dichotomous, depending on where you are. Atlanta has a big gay community and is much more liberal and accepting than a lot of the smaller towns and rural areas. But even in the more conservative areas, people tend to be polite to nearly everyone in public, no matter how much they might disapprove. They do their talking in private!

Q: You said you were making up stories for a while before you started actually writing them down. What encouraged you to do that? Can you tell us about your early efforts? How long before you had something published?
A: The first stories I made up were what I’d now call fanfiction: acting out favorite scenes from television shows, and then extending them into my own stories. I’m talking about when I was 7 or 8 years old, although my best friend and I wrote a full episode of “Remington Steele” when we were in high school. The first fanfic I published online came in the late 1990s, and I had a few original flash fiction stories published online a few years ago, but I didn’t write anything for serious publication until last year. Model Student was my first professional fiction publication.

Q: I love the ‘family’ feel of Sand and Water. Is this a theme you regularly pursue? What brought these characters to you? Did the story begin with them, or with their situation? Can you share a bit about how the story developed?
A: The original idea and title for the story came from the Beth Nielsen Chapman song, which I’ve always loved. For John and his story, I borrowed the idea of one parent dying and leaving the other to raise their child alone, along with the general melancholy feel of the song. Bryan’s backstory is based on something that happened to a family friend, whose husband was severely injured shortly after they were married. She went through a similar process of having to let go but still caring for him, and when she started a new relationship, he also joined her in visiting him. In both cases, there was always that sadness there, but they learned to move on.

I do like the aspect of including the characters’ whole worlds in the story, in particular the larger family dynamics. There are a lot of M/M stories where one or more of the characters’ families aren’t in the picture. In most cases, that fits the story, but sometimes it can feel like the author just didn’t want to deal with integrating the family and its influences into the characters’ stories. I like reading about anything that figures into the characters’ choices, and for good or bad, family is part of that. I also like for secondary characters to be fully developed and integrated into the story, not just used to drive the plot forward.

I’ve had a few comments from people who thought there was too much detail about the kids in the story, but I’ve been glad to see others who understand. John is raising Beth almost on his own (with some help from Meghan), which makes her a huge part of his life, but she’s also a tangible tie to and daily reminder of Liz, so that makes her figure even more closely into his characterization. Bryan’s closeness to his nephew is also critically important to who he is as a person, and in what John likes about him. Ignoring or minimizing the importance of the kids would’ve left huge holes in the story, I think.

Q: John is a bisexual character, apparently. Do you often write characters that have succeeded at both male and female relationships? What are the advantages or disadvantages of writing a bisexual character, if there are any? Does it change your approach to the character in anyway?
A: I’ve written several characters who could be described as other than strictly gay or straight, even if “bisexual” doesn’t quite do it either. It does fit for John, who’s been with both men and women and doesn’t really have a preference. He falls in love with the person, not the physical parts.

I don’t think there are any specific advantages or disadvantages to writing bisexual characters. It’s just another aspect of the characterization, same as if he were gay or straight. My personal feeling is that few people are strictly one thing or another and that sexuality is fairly fluid for most people, and that does come through in my stories sometimes.

Q: I never cease to be amazed by the quality of cover art being made in this M/M Romance genre. Reese Dante has definitely done it again with the cover of Sand and Water. Having grown up in beach towns—albeit a different ocean than the one your characters are near—I can say this cover captures exactly the right feel. Paul Richmond, who’s impressive art graces many covers, has done Model Student. I won’t ask you to compare or choose a favorite—how could anyone do that? But maybe you can tell us a bit about what you like most about each cover. Did you get a chance to give input as to the elements?
Model Student by Shae Connor cvr by Paul Richmond
A: I provided input and suggestions for both cover designs. Paul’s art for Model Student was my first professional cover art, and I was completely astounded by it. I love his work overall, but he perfectly captured the characters and the scene that I described. The finished image shows both the affection and the passion between Aaron and Matt. It feels like a standalone painting rather than a specific book cover.

Sand & Water by Shae Connor cvr by Reese Dante
Reese’s cover for Sand and Water makes me smile whenever I look at it. She managed to create exactly the type design I’d pictured even though I’d forgotten to include much about that when I sent in my suggestions. I did provide the background images of the beach and the pier, which are ones that I took on my last trip to Tybee Island, where most of the book is set. Reese and I worked together to pick the images for Bryan and John, and I think the finished product is just amazing.

Q: Rather than me picking your brain bit by bit about Model Student, let’s just post the blurb right here, and then, if you would, you can tell us something about how these characters and their story came to be.

Making his living as a model allows Aaron Stevens to pay his way through film school at NYU. While on a photo shoot, he meets Matt Carson, a journalism student who wants to interview Aaron for his senior project, and they feel an instant connection that catches them both off guard. As their relationship develops over the next week, they open up to each other about their pasts, but attraction won’t be enough to keep them together unless they can share their secrets too.

A:Model Student actually started life as a fanfiction story. I’d seen some modeling shots of one of the actors in a pairing I’ve written for, and I wondered what would have happened if the couple had met in a vastly different way than in canon. It grew from there and morphed into an original story. I usually tell people Model Student is one of those stories where I feel like I transcribed it more than just writing it. Most of it just flowed out as if it had been hanging in the ether, waiting for someone to write it down.

Q: Okay, here’s one of my favorite questions. Whose sexiest, John or Bryan? Aaron or Matt? And you don’t get to just say “both,” although you might fudge a bit if necessary. And, no one word answers, please, I’m hoping to hear the what and the why!
A: Hrm. Well, I’ll go with Aaron over Matt, partly because he’s physically more my type, and partly because he has that model pout to work. I love tall, lanky guys with dark hair and intense eyes, which is totally Aaron. Between John and Bryan it’s harder, but I’d probably lean toward Bryan because he smiles and laughs so much, even with all he’s been through. I laugh and smile a lot, so that that’s another thing I like in other people!

Q: Before we move on to excerpts, is there any news about what your readers can look for next? Any long range writing plans?
A: I have two holiday-themed short stories and a novella out for submission now, and I have several other projects in various stages of completion. (There are vague plans for a sequel to Sand and Water, for one thing.) I wrote most of the Sand and Water during National Novel Writing Month last year, and I plan to tackle another novel for this year’s NaNo. Please send chocolate! 🙂

Thanks for being here, Shae. I enjoyed the chance to ask my questions, and I certainly appreciate your sharing.

Thanks, Lou! Always glad to visit!

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Excerpt: Sand and Water, by Shae Connor

As soon as the playground came into sight, Beth tugged at his hand. “Come on, Daddy,” she urged. “I wanna see if Jeremy’s here!”

John laughed a little as Beth tugged him along. Once they were inside the park boundaries, John pulled them to a stop and squatted down to Beth’s level.

“Remember, stay in the playground unless you’re coming to where I am,” he said, holding her gaze, knowing he was looking into eyes exactly like his own. “No going anywhere with anyone else, not even another kid, okay?”

John wondered if Meghan had taught Beth to roll her eyes too. “I know, Daddy,” she said. “See ya!”

She ran for the swing sets, and John watched her for a minute or two, hands on his hips. He shook his head, smiling again, and crossed to one of the benches near the playground, where he sat and stretched his legs out in front of him, left arm across the back of the bench, face tilted up into the sun.

He didn’t know how long he’d been there, but it couldn’t have been long, because he’d only checked on Beth twice when a low laugh drew his attention. He looked up into a handsome face creased by a wide smile, white teeth shining in the sun.

“This seat taken?” the other man said, and John blinked in surprise for a moment before nodding toward the empty expanse of bench.

“Help yourself John looked over toward the playground and sought out Beth, who by then had moved to scrambling up the climbing set, a grinning boy about her age with her. Her honey-brown hair, pulled up into two ponytails, shone in the bright sunlight. “That’s her on the climbing set,” he said.

“Oh, with Jeremy?” The man grinned. “That must be Beth, then. Jeremy was crazy excited that he might get to see her again.”

John chuckled. “Ah, young love.” He turned in his seat enough to hold out a hand. “John McConnell,” he said.

The other man glanced at him for a second before reaching out to shake. “Bryan Simmons.”

Bryan quirked an eyebrow over deep brown eyes, and John smiled as they sat back. He returned his attention to the kids. “Looks like my daughter and your son really hit it off.”

Bryan laughed, drawing John’s attention back to him. “Oh, not my son. Nephew.” He grinned. “My sister and her husband own the Sea Breeze.” He named a bed-and-breakfast that was housed in an older house much like the one John lived in. “I’m helping them renovate the place, and I keep an eye on the munchkin for them sometimes.”

John nodded. “I’m glad someone’s doing that,” he said. “I mean, I know the place wasn’t exactly ramshackle before, but it was starting to look a little rough around the edges.”

“Yeah,” Bryan agreed. “Our cousins owned it. Our mom’s cousins, actually. But they were ready to retire, and Davis—that’s my brother-in-law—got a pretty hefty inheritance from his grandmother. So he and Karen bought the place, and they’re fixing it up.”

John nodded again, watching as Beth and Jeremy laughed and chased each other around the climbing set. Jeremy’s short, curly hair was a riotous mess, reminding John of what his own hair did when he let it grow out. “Been on the island long?”

“Six months.” Something in Bryan’s voice made John look over at him, but he couldn’t quite read the look in Bryan’s eyes. “I was in Atlanta before that, but I had to…. I left. Needed to get away for a while.”

Something in John’s chest twisted. He recognized the tone of Bryan’s voice now. He’d heard it from himself often in the past five years. “Bad memories?”

Bryan hesitated, but John had the feeling he needed to get something out. Finally Bryan gave a short nod. “Bad breakup,” he said. “I mean, not like yelling and throwing things bad. More like having to break up for reasons neither of you can control. Having to choose between him and me.”

It took a second for John to register the “him.” He blinked. “You’re gay?”
He winced immediately, knowing how the question sounded. Harsh. Accusatory. But he was only surprised, not put off. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Bryan’s face had already twisted into a scowl.

“Yeah, I’m gay,” Bryan challenged, glaring at John. “You got a problem with that?” He shook his head, starting to turn away. “Jesus, can’t even go to the fucking park without running into some homophobe—”

“Hey!” John interrupted him with an upheld hand, and Bryan’s face turned back toward him. “Not how I meant it, Mr. Jump-to-Conclusions. Not a homophobe, just surprised. I mean, not that many people are so casual about it in this neck of the woods. Trust me, I’m not bothered at all.” He hesitated before taking the plunge. “Hell, the last person I dated before I met my wife was a guy. Okay?”

Bryan studied him for a moment before blushing and dropping his head. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I do tend to jump to conclusions sometimes. And a lot of guys seem to think I’m going to, I don’t know, try to convert them or something.”

John nodded. “Apology accepted.” He shrugged as he relaxed against the bench. “I can understand it, really. A lot of people don’t react well, especially in the South. But I’m not one of them.” He shot Bryan a look out of the corner of his eye. “And even if I hadn’t dated guys, I know that just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re going to try to hit on every guy you meet.”

Before he could say anything else, Beth and Jeremy came running up toward them. “Daddy!” Beth exclaimed. She never seemed to do anything at a normal volume. “Jeremy said his mom is baking cookies and wants me to come have some!”

John frowned. “Bethy, honey, you know you’re not supposed to invite yourself over to somebody’s house.”

“I didn’t, Daddy!” Beth was insistent. “Jeremy invited me!”

John threw Bryan a sheepish look just as Jeremy intervened. “Can she come, Uncle Bryan? Pleasepleaseplease?” He bounced up and down, and John had to laugh. He’d thought it impossible for another child to have more energy than his own, but Jeremy might just prove him wrong.

“We’ll see, okay?” Bryan’s voice was soft but firm. “We can’t go back right now. I told your mom we’d give her an hour. But we’ll see after that, okay?”

Jeremy nodded so hard John thought his head would bobble right off. “Okay!” He turned back to Beth. “Race you!”

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Excerpt #2, Sand and Water (a hint of the sexy…)

Bryan leaned into the touch, just enough that John could feel it. He took the invitation and moved in closer, touching his lips to Bryan’s again. After a moment, he felt Bryan smile against his mouth and drew back, lips curving up in an automatic response. “What?”

Bryan smiled wider. “I was just thinking about what you said a little while ago,” he said, “about how I made a pretty big assumption about you the day we met.” He tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow. “I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be wrong in my life.”

John laughed and wrapped his arms around Bryan, pulling him in close and kissing him again. He slid both hands into Bryan’s hair so he could tilt his head into the kiss. He felt Bryan spread his hands across John’s back, and as their tongues met between their open mouths, Bryan let out a soft moan deep in his chest that set John’s entire body on fire. He forced himself to back away and look into Bryan’s wide, dark eyes. “I’ve always been an upfront kind of guy.” He could hear the arousal in his own voice. “So I’m going to be perfectly clear here. I like you. A lot. I want to follow this wherever it goes. But I don’t want to rush you. Hell, I don’t want to rush me, either.”

Bryan grinned, and before John knew what was happening, he was on his back on the sand, Bryan lying half across his chest with his hands holding John’s head, kissing him like his life depended on it. It was John’s turn to moan, from surprise as much as from the taste of Bryan’s mouth and the feel of his body. When Bryan broke the kiss, John stared up at him, stunned.

“I agree,” Bryan said, his rapid breathing and flushed cheeks the only obvious sign that the kiss had even happened. “Slow and steady. We both have things to work out. But I gotta say, I really, really like kissing. So can we do a lot of that, at least?”

John laughed and lifted his hand to grasp the back of Bryan’s neck. “All signs point to yes,” he replied, and then they didn’t talk again for a while.

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Excerpt #2, Sand and Water (a hint of the sexy…)

Bryan leaned into the touch, just enough that John could feel it. He took the invitation and moved in closer, touching his lips to Bryan’s again. After a moment, he felt Bryan smile against his mouth and drew back, lips curving up in an automatic response. “What?”

Bryan smiled wider. “I was just thinking about what you said a little while ago,” he said, “about how I made a pretty big assumption about you the day we met.” He tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow. “I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be wrong in my life.”

John laughed and wrapped his arms around Bryan, pulling him in close and kissing him again. He slid both hands into Bryan’s hair so he could tilt his head into the kiss. He felt Bryan spread his hands across John’s back, and as their tongues met between their open mouths, Bryan let out a soft moan deep in his chest that set John’s entire body on fire. He forced himself to back away and look into Bryan’s wide, dark eyes. “I’ve always been an upfront kind of guy.” He could hear the arousal in his own voice. “So I’m going to be perfectly clear here. I like you. A lot. I want to follow this wherever it goes. But I don’t want to rush you. Hell, I don’t want to rush me, either.”

Bryan grinned, and before John knew what was happening, he was on his back on the sand, Bryan lying half across his chest with his hands holding John’s head, kissing him like his life depended on it. It was John’s turn to moan, from surprise as much as from the taste of Bryan’s mouth and the feel of his body. When Bryan broke the kiss, John stared up at him, stunned.

“I agree,” Bryan said, his rapid breathing and flushed cheeks the only obvious sign that the kiss had even happened. “Slow and steady. We both have things to work out. But I gotta say, I really, really like kissing. So can we do a lot of that, at least?”

John laughed and lifted his hand to grasp the back of Bryan’s neck. “All signs point to yes,” he replied, and then they didn’t talk again for a while.

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