Kelly Jensen has been incredibly busy this past week with posts for her Block and Strike blog tour, but I’m so glad she agreed to answer a few questions for me.
As you probably know, Kelly and I have been friends since 2009, when we bonded over a video game. We started out chatting at length about the awesomeness of certain characters, then moved on to writing together in a role-playing forum. Eventually we turned our focus to writing original content, which led us to the Chaos Station series.
Kelly’s had some fantastic success with her contemporary romances with Dreamspinner Press, and it looks like the emotional, raw and very real Block and Strike is no exception.
So, without further ado…heeeeeere’s Kelly! (And me, asking the questions. But mostly Kelly.)
Ever since I met you in 2009, karate has been a huge part of your life…but one you had to give up for a couple of years due to an injury. Can you talk about that a little bit?
I landed badly while attempting a scissor takedown in class. I forgot to stiffen my neck and my head bounced from the mat. I hit hard enough to see stars and had trouble getting back up. So what did I do? I shook it off and attempted the takedown again. Part of it was that I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. I’m not the smallest person in the class, but it’s a close thing. I am probably the least aggressive. The other part, the bigger, stupider part, was that I didn’t want to admit I’d make a mistake by not stiffening my neck. That I’d hurt myself and needed a break. I landed a little less badly the second time, but scissor takedowns are hard, and dumb pride is dumb.
I went on to successfully test for my brown belt about a month later (with a strapped ankle because of another bout of stupidity!) and then settled in to write Block and Strike and Lonely Shore. I put down about 150k in the space of two months. I didn’t take proper breaks. Then we were in edits for Chaos Station and trying to write Skip Trace. I was experiencing pain daily—my arms hurt, then my shoulders, then my neck. My fingers were going numb. But I had deadlines, so I pushed through until I actually couldn’t move one of my arms. Yup.
Long story short, it took months of physical therapy to undo the damage from what turned out to be a pinched nerve in my neck resulting from a whiplash injury I’d given myself when I landed so badly. Now I have to be careful about computer time and have to stretch and exercise daily to keep myself moving. Daily exercise isn’t such a bad thing. Not being able to write 5k a day anymore kinda sucks, though.
Where did the idea for Block and Strike come from?
I wanted to share my experience with studying karate and self defense. It’s been such a huge confidence boost for me. I’m lucky that I’ve never had to defend myself physically, but knowing what to do in certain situations is a great comfort. The biggest difference for me, though, is in also being able to speak up more. I’ve learned to ask for what I want, and how to say no. So I set out to write a book where at least one character would take a similar journey. That character turned out to be Max. <3
Do you see more of yourself in Max’s character, or Jake’s?
Max is very much a reflection of my younger, less confident self. I drew extensively on my experience of being 20 and woefully unprepared for adulthood while writing him. Max has more courage than I ever did, but we both suffer from the same dumb pride thing.
It was only after I finished writing that I could see how much of myself I’d put into Jake. He’s a nurturer and over protective. He’s kinder about it than I am. I too often assume people are unable to look after themselves. I should be more like Jake. J
Like most of your other stories not set on a spaceship, Block and Strike takes place in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia specifically. Do you think you’ll ever get tired of setting stories in your home state?
Nope! I write close to home because I like working in settings that are familiar to me, and I really enjoy researching the history of each of my locales. The setting for Block and Strike comes from fond memories of Saturday morning trips to the bakeries around Cottman Avenue and cruising car dealerships along the Boulevard. Also, I kind of always wanted to live over a Chinese restaurant.
What’s your favourite part of Jake’s character? Max’s?
I love Jake’s ability to look forward and keep smiling. He’s so positive! Sure, he gets broody now and again (with good reason), but he’s so naturally optimistic that his moods never last long. I also adore the depth of his compassion.
Max’s will slays me. This guy. He’s been beaten down for nearly all his life, yet he refuses to stay down. He thinks he’s weak because he doesn’t fight back and, yeah, he could use a good dose of self-confidence. Mostly, he’s just young. The fact he keeps trying is my favourite thing about him.
Can you tell us a little bit about your process for this story? What did you go through to get it on paper?
After two attempts at a beginning where Max found himself on the wrong end of a mugging, I decided to skip that scene and start with Jake. As a character, Jake wasn’t very fleshed out at that point. He was the ‘love interest’. But he’d always had a very loud voice and I’m glad I started listening to him then. The mugging didn’t need to be on the page. The aftermath told us all we need to know.
From there, writing this story was a fairly straightforward process. I knew what I wanted to happen and wrote toward that goal. Without an outline. *pauses for Jenn to faint* I had some notes. Some fairly vague notes. 😀
Things got a little tricky when my black moment turned out not to be all that dark, as in Max shrugged off Jake’s big confession, leaving me to come up with another way to test their relationship. I really liked that Max showed that much growth at that point in the story, though, and it gave me a lot of ideas for what to do next.
The last third of the book changed three times. During one version, Max actually left Jake. I’m so glad I didn’t go with that one. I loved the resolution scene, but after I reworked Jake’s portion of the black moment, I felt he’d been kicked one too many times already. So I changed things around a little. Had them talk it out. I know, novel concept there.
I’m really pleased with how the story ended up. I love the romance between Max and Jake, the secondary relationships and the journey these characters took together. I feel it’s the most complete story I’ve written so far.
What are five words you’d use to describe Block and Strike?
Oh, man, this is the section of the pub prep and cover spec sheets I suck at. I can never come up with single words. Or the ones I do come up with are always really abstract—like “grey.” Yeah, I know. Don’t ask me to explain that one or we’ll be here all afternoon. Hmm… okay, how about:
Family, strength, self, love and pie.
What’s coming up for you, writing-wise?
I have two current WIPs. One I just started writing—the third Counting story. This will be the one where Henry and Marc get their super solid HFN, because after all they’ve been through, I don’t want any less for them.
My other WIP is fully drafted and I’m currently revising it. The working title is Irresistible and it’s another romance (contemporary), this time between two older guys who’ve loved and lost and aren’t sure if they’re ready to love again. Charlie is a parent and a writer—so me, basically. Simon is an architect—which is what I always wanted to be.
I know everyone wants to know if we’re going to write together again. We have plans, right? We’ll just have to see how the first half of 2017 shapes up!
With the exception of Best in Show, the books you’ve written since the Chaos Station series ended have been all contemporary romance. Do you see yourself writing in other subgenres in the future?
Yes. Absolutely. I read widely, so I like to write widely. I’d like to write a mystery, some fantasy, something historical, more science fiction, more paranormal and definitely more contemporary romance.
If you could write just one more book in your life, what would it be about?
I thought this question would be harder to answer, but I really, really want to write Irreplaceable, which is the book that comes after Irresistible. The lead this time will be Simon’s best friend, Frank, and the love interest is a childhood friend—someone he loved and then left behind, for reasons. When he ends up back in his hometown, Ben is going to be there and together they’re going to learn what they had was irreplaceable. See what I did there?
I’m excited about this book because it combines a few different ideas in my Big Book of Ideas. There will be a derelict Pocono resort, a ‘no fixed address’ situation and a little bit of a mystery.
Thanks so much for indulging me, Kel! I hope everyone will check out Kelly’s new release…details are below. Also, if you haven’t already, check out her blog tour (details are at the end of that page)! It wraps up today.
About the Book:
Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.
Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.
Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.