Zahra Owens! On *The Hand-Me-Down* and “Mr. Sex-on-Legs”

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The Hand-Me-Down

When a volcano erupts in Iceland and leaves globetrotting headhunter Jez Robinson stranded in Barcelona, he isn’t sure what to do. He has a hard time sitting still, so deciding to make the best of his situation, he pays a visit to his old friend Nick Stone, a retired porn star he shares a history with. Only the visit doesn’t go anything like Jez expected.

First Nick introduces Jamie, his much younger lover, a man so painfully shy he can’t even bring himself to talk to strangers. The love he and Nick share is plain to Jez, but also puzzling, because Nick was never the monogamous type. Then Nick tells Jez he’s dying and wants Jez to look after Jamie.

In his whole life, Jez has never committed to so much as a house plant, so at first he refuses. But Nick and Jamie are insistent, and soon Jamie worms his way into Jez’s graces and his bed, determined to do the convincing Jez’s heart needs.

Zahra Owens is a multi-lingual globetrotter who loves big cities, but also has a weak spot for the wide-open spaces that are so rare where she lives.

She likes her men either tough on the outside but with a huge soft center, or strong, silent and damaged. She makes it her personal goal to find them their happy-ever-after, the road there often leading via hospital beds, villas with gorgeous vistas or ranges full of horses.

Zahra is a proud member of the Rainbow Romance Writers, the Romance Writers of America, and is also a member of RWA’s Professional Author’s Network.

If Zahra had her wish, a day would have at least 36 hours, because how else would she find the time to finish all the novels still inside her head?
You can find Zahra at Zahraowens.com.

The Interview

Q: How important are character names, to you, and how do you go about naming them? What about titles?
A: The character names almost always come right after the basic premise of the book. If the names are wrong, the characters won’t talk to me. While I was writing my cowboy novels, one minor character wanted to be called Cooper. I’d already written a Cooper, as a main character in a novella called Balance, but I figured, what the heck, it’s a minor character. BUT…it turned out he had his own sob story, and wanted me to tell it. So I’m writing another Cooper… Totally different character from my other Cooper so I hope people won’t expect him to be the same!

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: Locations are part of the plot. They almost always become a character. My latest book, The Hand-me-down, is set in Barcelona and New York. I love New York to bits, yet New York became a very dark, menacing city for some reason. Barcelona is the bright sunshine place in the novel and although not so nice things happen in Barcelona too, it’s still the brightness to NYC’s gloom.

Q: How much power do you give your characters in steering the story line?
A: Every story I start, I tell myself I’m going to tell it the way I want it and every time I fail. These characters live. I admit it’s in my head, but they have their own will and if I fight them, the story won’t get written.

Q: What is the most satisfying element for you in writing gay relationships, and why?
A: I just love seeing my guys get together, especially if the road to happiness is full of potholes and detours. I love that there are a lot of clichés in gay romance, but you don’t need to follow any of them, especially not where characterization is concerned.

Q: Are readers involved in making your fiction—do they suggest stories or say what they’d like to read?
A: When I was still writing fanfiction, they did, but not anymore. Everyone is allowed to make suggestions, but they don’t do it, not even when explicitly given the chance.

Q: Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
A: Very selfishly I’d like a reader to love or trust me enough to buy anything I bring out, even if, at first glance, it isn’t their cup of tea. As a reader, I have a few authors like that (not naming names, because these people know me!). Also, I’d like to get some feedback from them. Just honest, tactful, right off the cuff feedback.

Q: What do you find useful about reviews?
A: A well written review makes you think about what you’ve written and helps you to see how other people view your work. “OMG I love your story!!!” is as useless to me as “Your story stinks” if the reviewer doesn’t tell me why he loved or hated the story, but I’ll gladly accept the first one for what it is!

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. Who, how, and why?
A: Right now, Mr. Sex-on-legs for me is Nick from The Hand-me-down. I’m sorry I had to kill him. He’s pushing fifty, elegant, tall and slender, impeccable dresser, full white beard and white floppy hair. I like my men mature (if you didn’t know that, you’ve never read anything I write) and a little ambiguous. In this case, it seems he doted on Jamie, his longtime lover, and gave up his entire life to take care of him, but was it in Jamie’s best interest? Read it and find out.

Q: What are the fifty hottest words (approximate the word count) you’ve ever written, in your opinion. (Be sure to include citation).
A: “Touch yourself,” I said in a voice that was definitely a few notches below my usual commanding one. He complied teasingly, smiling slightly as he used as few fingers as possible to move the skin over his erection, like he was trying not to obscure my view. He was so hard I could barely tell he was uncut. “Does it feel good?”
(This is hard! To choose, I mean…) From The Hand-me-Down.

Q: What are you doing now, what do you plan to write next?
A:I’m half way through my fourth cowboy novel, which will be called Moon and Stars. It’s not flowing as it should. I had a deadline and watched it fly by… Not good! But it will be written. “Cooper” demands it!

An Excerpt!
From: The Hand-Me-Down

WHEN the plane touched down in Barcelona, it was the middle of the night, but I was still on New York time, so I was actually less tired than I would be after a hard day’s work. Traveling first class had its perks, not least the almost personal service the airline provided in the form of a charming and rather buff male flight attendant who made sure my every need was met. Okay, maybe not my every need. His service didn’t provide that. He did, however, make sure I slept soundly for a good three hours in a seat that was more comfortable than the one in my own living room, and that when I woke, the meal I’d skipped was still hot. He also made sure the cabin lights were low, and the only sound was the humming of the engines. His perfect service even made sure I barely registered there were other businessmen sharing the cabin with me. For once, during my waking hours I actually got some work done. I kept thinking the flight attendant could make some rich guy a very attentive but inconspicuous butler. And he was a treat to look at as well.

Walking down the concourse on route to the baggage claim, I felt more invigorated than a transatlantic passenger had the right to be, and as I passed the droves of cattle car passengers and their tired kids, I tried not to smile too much. At least they didn’t do this once a week. I was so used to the time change it no longer bothered me. If all went well, I’d be back in the Big Apple before the weekend with time off to go clubbing. That was all in my future. For now, it was business all the way.

At immigration, a few words of Spanish, a stern, businesslike look, and my almost-full passport made the immigration officer put aside his prejudice against my shaven head and muscular bad-boy physique as he returned my passport to me, and let me enter the country. Luckily my numerous tattoos were covered by my travel attire, or he might have had a different reaction. I picked up my garment bag and the small suitcase I could hook my laptop bag to, and briskly walked toward the terminal’s outer lobby, where a portly driver stood with my name printed on a placard. Jeremy Robinson. But friends call me Jez.

“Good flight, sir?” the driver asked in heavily accented English after I had settled in the back of his car.

“Perfect, thank you,” I answered. I recognized the logo on his lapel as the one from the company I was going to visit. “Will you be picking me up in the morning?”

“Yes, sir. When would you like me to be there?”

“Eight is fine.” That would give me time to review some of my notes while driving, and would take into account that traffic in downtown Barcelona was notoriously difficult to predict. Also, I preferred to arrive early and see how ready they were for my arrival. I admit that seeing them scurry around nervously while I keep my notorious cool strokes my ego.

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