It’s been a month since the release of Phase Shift (Chaos Station #5). We miss our guys, but we’re working on new stories with new characters we hope you’ll come to love just as much as Zander, Felix and the Chaos crew.
In the meantime, enjoy this cut scene and a sneak peek at the cover of our last Chaos Station short, “Honeymoon”.
If you thought the guys were in desperate need of therapy by the end of Skip Trace, you weren’t alone!
Skip Trace (Chaos Station #3) was probably the most heavily edited of the five books. We had to rearrange a few things and cut a few scenes we really loved. One of the cut scenes was a therapy session with Zander, Felix and Dr. McMann – who gets several mentions in the later books!
While we understood therapy would be an important element in the journey of both men, the scene slowed the pace of the ending too much, so we ended up taking some of the relevant parts out (such as how Felix broke his hand) and using them in other scenes. As a whole, this scene remains one of our favourites, however, and we like to imagine this session did actually happen as written, shortly after the events of Skip Trace.
Zander and Felix deserve a break! Downtime is difficult for these former soldiers; no doubt they’ll find an adventure or two aboard the drift cruiser Biswas. There will be no severed limbs, near death experiences or kidnappings in this story! But this is Zed and Flick, so not everything is going to go exactly as planned.
I read all year ’round, but there’s something about sitting in the sunshine with a book—whether on the beach or on the patio—that’s just so awesome. Since I started reading ebooks a few years back, I’ve used a tablet, but I decided this year, I wanted to do more reading outside, so for Mother’s Day, Hubby and the kids got me a Kindle Paperwhite. So far, I’m loving it. I didn’t think the e-ink would be that much easier on the eyes, but wow.
Anyway, over the past month, I’ve read some great books. Check them out…
Triad Blood by ‘Nathan Burgoine
This is the first full-length novel featuring ‘Nathan Burgoine’s paranormal triad: Luc the vampire, Anders the demon, and Curtis the wizard. In this world, paranormal creatures must form groups of three (or more) in order to be safe from other creatures, and those groups are usually of one kind: three vampires, three demons, etc. In previous short stories, Luc, Anders and Curtis—each alone and vulnerable—formed a connection with each other that started out as solely an act of desperation, but has developed into something more like friendship.
This was a well-woven tale, meshing storylines from each member of the triad into a cohesive whole. The pacing was excellent, the mystery kept me turning the pages, and I loved the depth of the world ‘Nathan has created here. The characters are also very well developed and individual, but complementary, too. Luc is the old soul, so to speak; Curtis is the intellectual; and Anders is as daring and rakish as you’d expect a demon to be.
I especially appreciated that the book felt Canadian. There’s always something really special about a book set in your home town. Being able to visualize the area being described in words brings you that much deeper into the story. ‘Nathan did a great job of incorporating the culture and presence of Ottawa into the story seamlessly. (Also, I giggled that Curtis lived in the same general neighbourhood that my hero of Her Sexy Sentinel lived in…clearly there’s something magical about the Rideau Canal area.)
I will note that this book was more on the urban fantasy side of things rather than romance. I’m hoping that the relationship between Luc, Anders and Curtis develops further in future books. They have a good foundation for it now!
Breakaway and the Scoring Chances series by Avon Gale
Do you like hockey with your m/m? If you haven’t read this series by Avon Gale yet, you need to! I absolutely fell in love with the characters in the first book, particularly Lane, and I ended up devouring the rest of the series over the next few days.
In Breakaway, Lane Courtnall is a rookie on the ECHL’s Jacksonville Sea Storm. He’s 20, gay, from Chatham, Ontario, and does not communicate well—he’s a shade too blunt and really doesn’t grasp the point of a brain-mouth filter. His teammates don’t like him very much because of said lack of brain-mouth filter, so he decides to throw his gloves down during a game against Jacksonville’s rivals, against their bruiser, Jared Shore. As it turns out, Jared’s bisexual, and that fight leads to Lane and Jared connecting off the ice in a much more pleasant manner. But Jared’s at the end of his career (he’s in his early 30s) while Lane is at the start of his very promising one, so can they figure out how to work out a future together?
The best thing about Avon’s Scoring Chances series is how strongly the love of hockey shines through the narration and the characters. There’s not a lot of angst in these books (the third is about the angstiest to date, but I think the upcoming number four might top it). Most of the players have no problem accepting their bisexual and gay teammates, which is refreshing. These books are about the love of the game first and foremost, which makes them a joy to read.
Even if you’re not a hockey fan, I think you’d still like these books. They make hockey very accessible—the games and practices are big parts of the story, but the books don’t linger on the play-by-play on the ice. I seriously loved them.
You can pick up Breakaway and the other Scoring Chances books at:
Will & Patrick Wake Up Married serial by Leta Blake & Alice Griffiths
One morning in Vegas, two strangers wake up in bed together. Neither Will nor Patrick really remembers the night before (at first, anyway), but their bodies illustrate that there was some serious loving happening. All night. And to top it off, they’re sporting matching wedding rings. Oops.
For almost anyone else in that situation, it would be a simple thing to get a divorce—but not for Will. He’s the son of a mobster, who inherited a massive trust fund from his grandfather, and one of the stipulations of the inheritance is that should he ever marry, it needed to be for love, and divorcing will ensure his inheritance returns to his mobster relatives. He can’t let that happen, because he’s got a humanitarian non-profit depending on those funds. Double oops.
This series of novellas was such a fun romp. The family drama was dramatic—as you expect a mob family to be—but the characters of Will and Patrick raised the story to a whole new level. Will is diabetic and an alcoholic, which I thought was worked into the story quite well and not used for melodramatics. Patrick is a neurosurgeon, with all of the ego that goes along with that. He also has Asperger’s, which shines through in his dealings with everyone in Will’s wacky hometown.
Because this is a serial, with quite a significant overall word count, Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths have plenty of time to explore Will and Patrick’s personalities and the secondary characters as well. There are plenty of ups and downs for the two of them, from difficulties at Patrick’s new job to Will’s still-lingering feelings for his ex. This was the best kind of contemporary romance, with more than a little wish fulfillment, a ton of sexual tension, and scads of emotions, both high and low.
The first episode is currently free on Amazon and elsewhere if you want to give it a try. You can also buy all of the books in one package for a decent discount, which is what I did after whipping through the first book.
You can pick up the serial package of Will & Patrick Wake Up Married at:
This is the latest novella in Mia’s Grizzly Rim series. I’ve loved the previous books in this series, but you can definitely read this one as a standalone if you wish.
Otter shifter Nate Landry might have come to Alaska under not-the-best circumstances, but he’s made himself a home amongst the other shifters in Grizzly Rim. Except none of them know he’s using a borrowed name, not even his best friend Mac. Mac’s got his own secrets that keep him from getting too close to anyone, but when he finds out that Nate’s real name is Charlie, and the circumstances surrounding his flight to Alaska, he can’t help but be drawn even closer to the man.
One of the things I love about Mia’s Grizzly Rim series is that although the books are novella-sized, they are complete and whole stories that balance their paranormal and romantic elements very well. If you’re looking for a very well done paranormal snack, I highly recommend these books!
I found Burn the Sky through an automatically generated recommendation on Goodreads. I’d never read Jaye McKenna before, but I love high fantasy romance. Plus, dragons!
Prince Garrick is a bit of a playboy—he doesn’t take his studies too seriously, since his younger brother Jaire is serious enough for the both of them. He’s much more interested in a tumble with his buddy, Kian, than learning things he’ll need to know as the next Wytch King of Altan. But when Jaire develops his Wytch powers, Garrick’s world starts to crumble. At 20, Garrick should have developed his powers years ago, and the fact that he hasn’t means that he’s not liking to hold his title of Heir Presumptive for much longer. Though Jaire has strong magic, he’s frail and delicate, and unprepared to become Wytch King. In order to save his brother, Garrick agrees to undergo a spell to forcefully awaken his Wytch powers…which results in disaster.
Ilya, a Wytch Master who is an expert in dangerous powers is called in to train Garrick—or to try, anyway. Because if Garrick can’t learn to control himself, Ilya won’t be his saviour—he’ll be his doom.
One of the things I really enjoyed about these books was that Jaye McKenna takes the time to set up her characters individually, so you know exactly what each character’s motivations and goals are by the time they meet. The world-building is deep, but she only provides what you need to know on the page—which is awesome. I really enjoyed both of the books in the Wytch Kings series, and I’ll be looking at more from this author!
Yep, that’s right! It’s release day for the last book in the Chaos Station series. I hope everyone who’s been along on this ride with us for the last 12+ months finds this a good happily ever after for our space boys.
Book five of Chaos Station
Zander and Felix’s relationship has always pushed boundaries—personal and professional alike—but their love and commitment is stronger than ever. So strong that Zander’s ready to ask commitment-shy Felix the question of a lifetime when he’s interrupted. The Chaos is being hacked, and crucial, top secret information about the project that created Zander—and his fellow super soldiers—has been leaked.
Neither man could have expected the enormity of what’s discovered at the end of the data trail: an entire colony of super soldiers run by the very doctor who changed Zander’s life forever. And now she needs them both—Zander to train her new crop of soldiers, and Felix’s new crystalline arm to stabilize their body chemistry.
With help from the unlikeliest of allies, Zander, Felix and the Chaos crew must destroy the project and all its ill-gotten information. But when the team is split up and Felix is MIA after a dangerous run, galactic disaster is a very real possibility…and Zander may have missed his chance to ask for forever.
She talks about our thought processes leading up to this decision, so I’ll let you go read about that. I’m going to talk a bit about having the courage to scrap words.
We’ve had quite a few reactions to the news that we’ve scrapped 55,000 words (which, for reference, is about the size of a category romance novel). We had a few commiserating responses, along the lines of “OUCH!”. Reesa Herberth, co-author of Peripheral People, said:
@kmkjensen@jeralibu We were 45k into the first draft of Peripheral People when we realized 4 POV characters wasn’t working. Tossed it all.
(By the way, if you haven’t read Peripheral People, you need to get on that. Psychic detectives in space, y’all.)
Someone congratulated us on the bold decision to split up our original couple and put them with different love interests. Which…yeah, it’s kind of sad to do it, but we both really love the characters as they exist now. One or both would have to change significantly in order to have enough inherent conflict to make their story interesting, and we didn’t really want to do that.
Another reaction that really struck me was this one:
@kmkjensen this is what I needed to hear today. If you two can do it, then so can I!
It kind of hit me after reading this tweet that yeah, trashing 55,000 words is a Big Deal. But as Kelly says in her post, the effort wasn’t wasted. We explored our world and these two characters. We got to understand them better. Best yet, we had fun with this exercise.
On top of everything else, we learned a few things.
If something is niggling at you about the plot or the characters or the romantic relationship, don’t think, “Eh, I’ll address it in revisions”. For little stuff, like bits of research or minor adjustments, this is fine; revising that sort of thing can slow down your drafting. But big items? Nope, you need to look hard at those types of issues when they come up.
This experience reiterated the lesson we learned when writing the Chaos Station series, which was that the spec fic elements of the story need to be woven into the plot right from the beginning. We did that, to some extent, but not deeply enough.
You can tell a contemporary-type story in a paranormal world, but it’s tough to do when you’re introducing readers to a new world. You need a plot that pulls the reader into the paranormal elements, introducing them and fleshing them out.
So the point is…if your gut is telling you to step back and try a new direction with your writing, maybe listen to it. Don’t be afraid to toss words out the window if you have to. Sometimes it’s the best decision.
PHASE SHIFT releases May 2. You can read Chapter One now!
To celebrate the release of the last book in the Chaos Station series, we’re giving away an advance copy of PHASE SHIFT to one lucky newsletter subscriber! If you’re already signed up, you’re already entered. If you haven’t, sign up now!
Winner will be notified on Monday, April 25th.
The Chaos Station newsletter keeps subscribers up to date regarding new releases,
giveaways, free short stories and extras.
Use the coupon code RT3016 at CarinaPress.com to catch up with any books you’ve missed!
Coupon expires April 30.
I’m going to try to do posts like this a little more often, so you can all get a glimpse at what I’m working on!
Kelly and I have two WIPs on the go. One is a light paranormal and the other is a contemporary, both m/m. Neither have homes yet, so I’ll hold off on details for now. But the paranormal is sitting at about 40,000 words, so it’s developing nicely!
And, because I’m a tease, here are our inspiration models for the contemporary…
David Gandy (model)
Evan Harmon (model)
The Evil Day Job was crazy busy in March, so I haven’t had much time to devote to writing solo stuff ̶ most of my writing time has been focused on our joint projects.
My main WIP is a m/m new adult paranormal sitting at about 40,000 words. I hope I’m able to get back to it this month because I’m just at the point that stuff is going to fall apart in a spectacular manner for my guys. Fun for me, maybe not so much for them.
I did have a novella plot bunny leap up and try to bite off my face a couple of weeks ago, so I’m plugging away at that when I can. It’s m/m contemporary, but more erotic than anything I’ve written to date, which is both fun and frightening. The story deals with some heavy subjects, like loss of a partner and rediscovery of one’s love of life, so I hope I’m able to do it justice.
So, if you’re reading this blog, you know I wrote a few books last year with my bestie, Kelly Jensen. This little series called Chaos Station, featuring two broken ex-soldiers who were best friends turned lovers before galactic war broke out and erased their chance at a happily ever after…or so they thought.
Picture this scenario: You’re writing a romance novel. (I know, this is a huge stretch for my blog audience.) In this book are two amazing main characters (hero/heroine, hero/hero, heroine/heroine, doesn’t matter). You love these main characters. They’re awesome illustrations of everything a hero or heroine should be—not perfect, of course, but realistically flawed and (hopefully) lovable.
What’s the best way to turn your readers off instantly?
I’m not talking about an ex who made a mistake because they’re human and humans do that. That’s the sort of ex the reader can look at and go, “okay, you’re an asshole for hurting the main character, but clearly there was something good about you at one point”. Maybe the main character has happy memories underneath all the hurt. There’s something there that makes us realize that even though things went south in a bad way, the ex isn’t the devil incarnate.
Yeah, I’m not talking about those guys.
I’m talking about Evil Exes that are so awful that there are no good times for the main character to remember. The exes where it’s a complete mystery why the hell anyone would even talk to them, because they’re selfish and crude, they shout misogynistic slurs at every woman they see, they’re a disloyal betrayer, or they’re manipulative and cruelly childish…basically a sociopath without being labeled as such in the book.
And yes, I’ve read a book recently where the Evil Ex was all of those things.
The Evil Ex shows just how good the new love interest is!
No! No, no, no, a thousand times no.
Here’s the thing: the Evil Ex character isn’t a character at all, but a caricature. A stereotype. And, let’s face it, caricatures and stereotypes are supremely lazy writing. You’re basically piling on all these bad attributes to prove to the reader how awful the ex is (telling), rather than taking the time and effort to craft a realistic character that can earn our hate/dislike (showing). The best “bad guys” are the ones that we can empathize with—even if they’re not a focal antagonist of the book.
The Evil Ex reflects
Honestly, it’s in your best interests for your main character’s characterization not to have a complete asshole of an ex, because that reflects poorly on the main character. It’s an extra hurdle for readers liking or relating to your character.
If the ex is that awful, and yet the main character was supposed to be in love with them—and the main character has no happy thoughts or memories about how things used to be good with the ex—then immediately I’m going to doubt your main character. Are they stupid? Are they just as bad as the Evil Ex? Are they spineless?
And the biggest question: Why would anyone invest time and energy into someone who isn’t even a real person?
The Evil Ex must be stopped
I can’t count how many times I’ve read this caricature. Don’t add to the numbers. Don’t do it!
If you’re including an ex in your story:
Make them real. Don’t pile on the bad traits just to prove they’re evil.
Give them their own GMC. That’s goal/motivation/conflict. It doesn’t have to be detailed but it will help anchor their presence in the story.
Don’t depend on a comparison between the ex and the new love interest to prove how amazing the new love interest is.
Think about their past with the main character. Make sure there were some good times before everything fell apart.
I opened up a book by a new-to-me author recently and I was stoked as I fell into the story in the first few pages. The setup was wonderful, the hero seemed to be my kind of guy, and the heroine had the right mix of vulnerability and strength. I was hooked.
And then it fell apart. Because the author just kept layering event after event of angst and trauma and drama into the hero’s backstory. Despite the hero starting at rock bottom because of all this angst and having nowhere to go but up, he had zero growth over the course of the book. He dwelled completely in the past and, I kid you not, the emotional issues he was dealing with in the first chapter were the same ones he was going on about in the last chapter. He learned nothing.
I’m not going to go into the details of the story, because that’s not the point of this post. This isn’t to pick on a given book. What I want to do is explore this idea that angst = automatically interesting.
You know what, angst can be interesting. The definition of angst is “a strong feeling of being worried or nervous: a feeling of anxiety about your life or situation”. Good emotional conflict often comes out of angsty situations, the sort that fundamentally change how a character views themselves, and twists them up to the point that they’re still dealing with the emotional or psychological issues as the story opens.
Some examples of backstory angst might be:
A character who’s abandoned by his abusive parents as a child.
A character who broke her back in a car accident and struggled to learn how to walk again.
A character who witnessed a brutal robbery and is dealing with PTSD.
A character who is learning to move on after the death of her wife.
Injecting angst in a character’s backstory can make them more interesting—if you build on it. That’s the key. Angst should be a catalyst for your character to do something. To make a choice. To take action. It’s not the angsty event that’s interesting—it’s how the character deals with it.
I want to read a story about a character who prowls the alleys, protecting street kids because his parents abandoned him. Or the character who’s now a drag racer because she refuses to let her fear of getting hurt again rule her life. Or the character who is trying to live a full life and find love despite the burden of flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms. Or the character who is taking a chance on new, unexpected love as she meets her boss’s adult daughter for the first time.
Generally, I don’t want to read a story with one character who has all of these things (abusive parents, horrible injury/recovery, PTSD from a separate event, death of a loved one) in their backstory. Why? Well, for a few reasons.
A character who is this burdened may be unable to realistically move forward or even have the emotional capacity enter into a romantic relationship. I want to believe in the romance, but if the character is too weighed down, it’s tough.
If the character’s history is categorized by a list of awful events that happened to them—without the balance of them taking action because of these events, or these events arising because of their own choices—the reader will view them more as a victim rather than as a hero or heroine. I don’t want to read about this person. I want to read about the guy or girl who is struggling to win at life despite all the crap thrown in their direction.
If nothing good has ever happened in their life (or at least nothing good enough to make it into the backstory as revealed to the reader), it stretches believability for me. I’m not saying multiple awful things can’t happen to people—I know it does on a daily basis. But as a writer, when you’re crafting your characters for a romance, you’ve got to give the reader something positive. Even if you end up snatching it away.
Of course, there are always exceptions, but in my experience, less is more when it comes to backstory angst.
But what about my books, right? Look at poor Felix and Zed. The angst in the Chaos Station series is pretty heavy, especially in Felix’s backstory.
Career and duty separates him from Zed, the love of his life, after they graduate from the academy.
When war breaks out, Felix is captured by the alien enemy and held for four years, during which he’s starved and tortured.
When he escapes, he discovers his parents and sister were killed early in the war when the space station they lived on was destroyed.
He’s discharged from the military after nearly being prosecuted for treason.
But, despite all the bad, we had good things in his backstory, too.
Elias and his father rescue Felix and basically adopt him, offering support when he needs it most.
Elias and Felix go into business together.
Felix gets to be the engineer on a ship he owns and he loves it.
He finds a makeshift family in the Chaos’s crew.
So there’s a balance. It’s not all bad, and not once does Felix stop moving forward. He’s constantly making choices and taking action, both in his backstory and over the course of the Chaos Station series. Those choices and actions are all coloured by the angsty events in his backstory, but we used those events to build his character.
We also didn’t try to “fix” Felix or Zed in one book. They move forward in each book, developing, gaining ground (and sometimes losing ground), but triumphing over their pasts is a long process. In our case, it took the full five-book series for both Zed and Felix to realize their full potential, though much of their backstory is addressed in the first three books. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re envisioning a character with a very tortured backstory.
So, to wrap up: backstory angst can be a great tool, but overwhelming angst is not an automatic ticket to a super-engaging character. Remember, it’s not the angst in the character’s backstory that’s interesting, it’s how they deal with it. Use it wisely build depth into a character and a story.