Detroit Inspiration

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As Idlewild’s release date nears (December 1st!), I want to begin introducing you to the characters and themes of the book. It might sound silly to some of you, but from the start, the city of Detroit has been a main character in the concept. detroit-image

Idlewild is the most slippery book I’ve ever written, in the sense that it resisted being what I imagined it would be. I generally think of myself as a vessel through which stories pass. What I mean is, that while I create characters and atmosphere, I am always ready and open to let the story and characters tell me who they are and what they want to do. Often, they disagree with what I’d planned.

My initial concept for this book was drawn from two inspirations: the city of Detroit and a Sam Smith song. While Detroit stayed throughout, my understanding of the city and what I’d wanted to write about it changed dramatically. As for Sam Smith, that got left in the dust (initially Tyler’s boyfriend was a serial cheater; this didn’t work at all for the character who ended up being Tyler’s boyfriend).

The first time I described what I wanted to write to a friend of mine, her response pointed out a huge flaw in my thinking. I’d wanted to write about Detroit’s downtown revival, and I’d never considered the complexities of gentrification. Later, I did a research project for my Masters that focused on land based rhetorics in Detroit. This is when I realized I needed to do a lot more research and examine the rhetorics of the city from various points of view.

I wanted to write a love letter to Detroit, and in the end, did. But love is complicated, and Detroit’s story is incredibly complex. Her history is often painful and misunderstood. One cannot ignore the economic and racial tensions of the city now, nor her reputation. detroit-image-2

Every time I hear Detroit called the Murder Capital of the country, my heart breaks. First, because the statistics that led to that headline were contextualized in a particular way and are from years ago. Second because this isn’t the Detroit so many of us know and believe in. These rhetorics influence people to give up. The divide between the Metro Detroit suburbs and the city are rooted far back in history. Many people mark the change in this city’s history to the Riots of 1967. The history of racism, of violence, of redlining housing policies and so many other things date back farther. One must go into the Detroit’s role in FDR’s Arsenal of Democracy during World War II. We must go back to Jim Crow, and the many families who came north thinking that they would find jobs and homes and better lives, only to find that promises would go unfulfilled. We must go back to the founding of Detroit all the way in 1701 and trace a long, layered history.

The history of this city isn’t something I could sum in this blog without it going very long. Although so much of this history doesn’t make it explicitly in this book, it informs so much of what happens and how the characters feel and interact. One of the challenges of writing deeply complex characters (as I do consider Detroit to be a character in this book) in a romance novel was balancing writing a character driven love story with the deep history of a city around it. This sort of book didn’t lend to heavy handed history lessons, because that wasn’t the focus. But it was there. It is there. detroit-image-3

I am so happy that my concept of Detroit as a character in this book changed so dramatically. I hope that I managed to balance story with history; I hope that I manage to capture her spirit kindly and honestly. I hope that those interested in learning more about Detroit take advantage of the list of books I’ve provided. There are many ways one could write about this city, because she wears many histories and faces. This book is my love letter to Detroit.

There are a lot of aspects of this story that needed addressing, careful balance, an open mind and a willingness to hear when I was getting it wrong. I was so lucky to work with the sensitivity readers I did, and to have so many friends share their experiences with me in the writing of Idlewild. There is room to tell many stories about this city and her people. I hope you enjoy this particular one.

 

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Andrew and Milo Exposed

The things you didn’t know! Today I thought it might be fun to give y’all some little insight tidbits into my main characters from What it Takes that you wouldn’t get in the book. When I did my twitter takeover on Interlude’s twitter account a bit ago, I had a couple of readers ask me what it was like to fit twenty years of story into one book. In a word, hard! It really meant judicious storytelling and knowing a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t have room to write in. There was some fun character stuff — sketches and the like — that I did before the book came out and for my VBT I thought I’d share.

First though, to set the scene, can we look at some pictures of these boys first? I love to use Pintrest to find inspiration, even if I have a pretty clear idea of what the characters look like.

Milo was a little hard to pin down — I have a few pictures that have elements of who he is, but this one is a great one, what I imagine he’d look like at twenty. Make his hair a darker and more auburn red and his eyes a little more slate blue and bam!

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As for Andrew…I’d never heard of Alex Pettyfur until I started trolling around for Andrew inspiration but OH YES COME TO MAMA. This man. Perfection for Andrew:

Loove Thi Pic Alex Pettyfer | Photo | corny | Fans Share Images:

So what’s the skinny on the character secrets?

Well for starters,  Milo hates to have people sing Happy Birthday to him. He never got that really at home and it always made him feel too seen elsewhere. He also has really deeply hidden and over the top dream wedding fantasies. Not even Andrew knows about that when they’re kids. Milo also always wanted a Malamute puppy. He wasn’t allowed to have pets as a kid, but when he was ten her read a book about large dogs and fell in love with a picture of one. His list of reasons as an adult for why it would make sense to get one include that they’re good family dogs and laid back, but secretly it’s because they “talk” back when you talk to them. He’s seen videos on YouTube and it’s adorable.

As for Andrew, he secretly writes weird, awful dystopian novels that even he doesn’t like. In the back of his mind it’s because they remind him of Milo. Partly that’s because he doesn’t understand the genre and he thinks that’s something Milo might like based on the kids of books he does like to read. As we see in What it Takes, their reading (and video game) tastes do not really line up. Also, Andrew once harbored a really intense, brief crush on Demi Lovato. He’s still not sure why, considering that he’s pretty much always known he was gay. Maybe it was the blue hair phase, or knowing all of the stuff she’s overcome. She just generally seems kind of badass. Plus, even as a gay man he can admit she’s got a great body.

~*~

Both Hush andWhat it Takes are available for purchase now at:  Interlude Press Web Store
AmazonAll RomanceBarnes & NobleBook Depository, Apple iBookstore, Smashwords, and Independent Bookstores

Banner Time

Let’s talk visual inspiration for What it Takes; in pictures and an excerpt.

(Say it like you’d say Hammer Time and then sing that song to yourself for a moment. Go on, it’ll feel great!)

~*~

        “The wind is up, but the beach is deserted. This has always been a quieter one, thanks to a longer walk through the dunes. There are sandbars far into the water at high tide and the sand is mostly exposed at low tide. A line of pebbles sweeps in an arc above the waterline, and below it is a second arc of seaweed. The tide is mostly out. The dunes wear their usual blend of pretty purple and white flowers and sharp grasses. 

       Milo sits a few feet above the rock line and pulls on his sweater. The sun is blinding off the water, but he wants to be blinded, wants to be forced out of his headspace. It’s so quiet, save for the agitated water. 

       Legs crossed, Milo pulls himself up straight. He closes his eyes and ignores the swirling colors behind his eyelids. He counts a slow breath in, three beats, then exhales for three. Takes a three-beat pause before breathing in. He imagines his breath as a triangle and projects that shape from his body. He lets his senses take in the beach, the quiet, the water, the grit of the sand whipped up by the waves. Tension seeps out of him when he exhales. He lets it go. Nothing is taken from him, nothing is forced. He can count these breaths as he wants. He suspends himself in the pauses: pictures a white canvas, bleeding jumbled.images of worry and anxiety, reds and blacks and angry oranges slowly dripping off, as if washed away by rain. 

       When he opens his eyes again, he’s calmer. That buzzing, anxious feeling is gone. The seaweed has been swallowed by the sea. Tide’s coming in. Milo watches it. The water begins to run in a slow progressing rivulet in a channel between the rocks. As the water creeps ever closer, it rises over uneven sandbars until it meets in the middle of that small channel, eventually overflowing and overrunning the strip of sand in the middle. Before it’s gone, Milo walks into the cold water. The rocks are rough under the soles of his feet. They’re thin-skinned against the sand; when he was a kid they’d been callused and used to beach and forest.
        He searches out bigger, colorful rocks and tosses them up the beach. He finds a perfect half shell with pinks blending into white in the center. In the middle is a bright blue fleck of sand. He picks that up too.
        By the path into the dunes and back toward his car is a wrecked piece of driftwood, hollow and pale from sun-bleaching. He arranges the rocks on top, makes a pattern of colors with the
shell on the end, a frangible beautiful thing, and then takes a picture. His mom will like that. The memory of making art of beach flotsam with Andrew haunts him.” p 145, What it Takes

~*~

Last night I had awesome fun taking over the Interlude Press twitter and website, answering great questions about Hush, What it Takes and my secret third book.

I’ll be rounding some of that up for y’all later, but I wanted to share this banner I made for social media (other than this website, which was made by actual professionals, so it looks more professional).

An anonymous reader asked: I want to visit the setting of your book – it sounds so serene and beautiful. Is it a place you’ve always just imagined or is there an actual place that inspired it?

My quick twitter answer was that the scenery and natural settings were inspired my visit to Wellfleet for a poetry retreat a few years ago. I’ve wanted to use the inspiration I got from that visit for a while. Wellfleet didn’t work, logistically, for this novel, but I wanted to use what I saw and experienced — so I invented the town of Santuit.

While this is an invented town, the pictures in this banner are my own, taken from my trip. I have to admit that the log with stones was something I stumbled upon, I didn’t actually make that art the way that Milo did. That shell with the beautiful blue piece of sand is something I found as well. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the forest they play in, but I assure you I did treck in there and see a lovely isolated pond; I did get to feel the hush of the trees and birds and the stillness of places people weren’t in.

So for those of you who were curious about visuals, inspiration and place, here is some of the magic I experienced and built Milo’s healing around.

 

 

Origins, Part 1

I am belatedly going to announce and squeal over the fact that my first original novel went up for presale this Tuesday. It’s a great deal: if you purchase now, you’ll get the ebook bundle and the print copy for the price of the print copy alone!

Hush is a story about two young men: Wren is one of “the gifted”—a college sophomore with the power to compel others’ feelings and desires. He uses his power as a game of sexual consent until Cameron, a naïve freshman, enters his life. As Cameron begins to understand his sexuality and gain confidence under Wren’s tutelage, Wren grows to recognize new and unexpected things about himself.

Hush is a sexy book. It’s unapologetically sexy: it was a lot of fun for me to explore ideas of consent and sex as a way to demonstrate character development, ideas of submission, consent, growth, trust and love.

This book started as a seedling, a tiny plot bunny that came from the song Dark Horse, by Katy Perry. I was driving my kids somewhere and it came on the radio. Listening to the lyrics I was struck by the way the song balances the idea of magic and the ability to compel, but also that the other person must make a conscious choice to submit to that magic. It’s a sensual song, no doubt. After hearing it a few times, I couldn’t help thinking writing a short story that would expand on the idea.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to really delve into the idea of consent. What would it look like for a person to agree to complete submission that was compelled from them: how to balance that magic with the idea of autonomy?

Because my brain likes to really complicate things, I started to imagine the people who would be involved in the story, and from there, Hush was born. Once I really started to get to know both Wren and Cam, it became clear that there was so much more to them than interactions shaped around their sexual encounters. They both go through remarkable changes and experiences here, and there’s a lot more to their stories past the end of the book.

One of my favourite things to explore between them was the ways in which submission can shape dynamics between to people, and how powerful true submission is: the trust and the knowledge of limits and the gift you are giving back to a person. Submission can be individually motivated for pleasure, but also something shared, something that can speak with more resonance than words. Writing their increased intimacy and the pleasure they could each bring out and give one another was a great character building exercise and experience. Writing an alternate world where people have special abilities was a completely new and challenging experience for me. Stretching out of my comfort zone as a writer has always been a frustrating but ultimately wonderful adventure.

At it’s heart, Hush is a love story, and a story about growth, coming of age, and joy. But happy endings aren’t always smooth and easy journeys, and writing these boys going through them was a great experience.

Behind the scenes were many adventures: the naming of this story has it’s own hilarious back story. Creating this world and the idea of gifted people. The revelations about the characters lives that took me surprise in the actual process of writing it (pantsing squirrel alert). All of these are stories I can’t wait to share with you in the coming months.