In the world of romance, love is won and love is lost. The wonderful moment of connection is something that most people enjoy and look forward to. But if you are anything like me then the journey is just as important as the happy ending. And some of the greatest love stories are so great because the couple had to walk through hell to their Happily Ever After.
Have you ever wondered how and why authors put their characters through the things they do? Here is Lex Valentine to talk about how grief as motivation is just as beautiful and rewarding to authors and readers as all the fluffy bunnies.
It’s pretty much a given that anyone who knows who I am knows that I work for a cemetery/mortuary. The topic of grief is one I’m intimately familiar with. After all, my company has a grief blog and I’m the blog coordinator. Mostly, that means I look for guest bloggers whom I feel would be interesting to our readers. On occasion, when I don’t have a guest blogger, I do the blogging myself.
I try to stay within the boundaries of the topic of grief for my company’s blog. However, grief is one of those emotions one can draw from if you’re a writer who has experienced it. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I use my grief quite a lot when I’m writing. Unlike some authors who rarely write anything but angsty characters, I don’t always write characters who are brought down by despair. However, upon some reflection, I’ve discovered that when I do write those kinds of characters, I do a couple of key things. One, I truly do draw upon my own personal grief. There are the griefs of losing pets, losing my home, and losing lovers (none to death yet though.) However, the real grief in my life came from losing both of my parents, six months apart, at the age of twenty-five.
My grief over this loss is of the inconsolable kind. Sure, I learned to live with it, but basically, I’m always going to be inconsolable. There is nothing anyone can say that will heal this wound. When I need to write a character who is dark, moody, and/or in pain, I take myself back to the moment I realized I was all alone. I draw upon the emotions I experienced to imbue my characters with agonizing heartache.
The second thing I do is play music that exacerbates the emotions I’ve dug up within me. There’s a song by Evanescence, Lost in Paradise, with the line “I have nothing left.” I could probably play that line over and over and over again when writing my characters who are broken.
You’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with me writing the characters in my gayroms. Well, not all of my characters are bright and shiny. In Fire Season, Garret Renquist is a very smart man. However, he’s been exploited for his brains since he was a small child. It gives him a bit of an edge that the other hero, Holden Antaeus, just doesn’t have. In Sunstroked, wildling Corey Green has lost his happy go lucky attitude and he’s become dark and brooding because he thinks he’s lost the man he loves. His mate Dylan is even more brooding than Corey. He’s been severely repressed by his family and is having a rough time coming out and finding his way. And then there’s Breathe Me In. One of the heroes is a wizard who is definitely filled with angst. Well, he’s cursed actually.
When I take a look at my other M/M books (the non-Tales of the Darkworld ones) I have a pair of Christmas cowboy short stories, one with a pilot who still has nightmares of being shot down in the Afghan Mountains. The other is the story of a cowboy who was afraid to come out and turned his back on the man he loved to marry a woman who furthered his career. Years later, outed by his wife, the cowboy has lost everything but he’s learned a tough lesson and he’s changed. His former lover decides to try to get him back but the poor man is so broken he can barely believe in the miracle. In one of the Encounters short stories, I pair a wizard dissatisfied with his life with a human man who suffers from unrequited love of the wizard. And then there’s Where There’s Smoke which has a murderous father out to kill his gay son. And finally, there’s my Air Force pilots. In Afterburner, the two pilots are up against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. When one of them crashes his plane the other one is heartbroken to realize he has no rights. In Breath of Heaven, the two pilots are faced with the death of a family member and the care of two little boys whose lives have been turned upside down. Breath of Heaven is especially heartwrenching.
Currently, I’m working on two NFL stories that really draw upon my grief. The first one, Scrambling, is the story of two best friends who met at the age of six on the Pee Wee field and grow up playing football together. Each is in love with the other, but both are afraid to tell their friend about their love. It’s not until they both retire from the NFL that the truth comes out. There are several really tough scenes of heartbreak in this book but none are likely to bring tears to your eyes as the scenes in the sequel, Out of the Pocket.
Since Scrambling is done I’ve been working on Out of the Pocket which is about one of the secondary characters in Scrambling. The man is the epitome of sophistication until the day he has a meltdown on live TV during an interview. It turns out that in his past is a secret affair with another player, an affair that lasted ten years. When the pair are threatened with being outed, the quarterback’s lover leaves him in order to save the quarterback’s career.
The quarterback makes a new life for himself but he’s just going through the motions until the day of his meltdown. Then he drives half the day to go to the place where his lover dumped him. His former lover sees the meltdown on TV and makes for the same place. When the two meet it’s clear that lost love has broken both men.
Here is an excerpt from Out Of the Pocket:
As Joss approached the field, memories flooded him. His breathing hitched, then sped up. He ached as poignant scenes assaulted his brain. When he stepped out onto the grass he saw a man kneeling just outside the glare of the light, head bent, shoulders hunched, shrouded in shadow. Silently, Joss crossed the grass to stand before him.
“I wondered why Rolly had turned on the lights.”
The man stiffened, the cloth of his expensive suit rippling with the movement. Joss saw his hand grip his knee, knuckles white above the glitter of a Super Bowl ring. He looked up and Joss caught the gleam of a tear tracking away across Bryce’s cheekbone. His heart stuttered then sped up. He’d come to find his Bryce, but this man wasn’t who he expected. His Bryce would never cry. He’d been stoic through everything they’d gone through. The man who knelt at his feet had a face ravaged with pain and memories.
The sound of his name on Bryce’s lips sent a shudder through him. He wanted to reach down and snatch Bryce into his arms. He wanted to take away the pain he saw glittering in the gray eyes. He wanted to hold the man he’d loved for almost half his life.
Instead, he said, “I saw the interview.”
Anguish blazed up at him from Bryce’s eyes before he closed them and looked away.
Joss wasn’t about to let Bryce get away this time. Not look away. Not walk away. “I think you owe me an explanation.”
Bryce shook his head slowly, his shoulders hunching in a pose of utter defeat. His silence told Joss more than any words ever could. The façade Bryce had lived behind for eight years had been destroyed and Joss wasn’t about to let it come back and come between them. He wasn’t going to let anything come between them again.
“You sounded like a wounded animal on TV. The whole world saw your pain, Bryce. I saw it,” he pressed, hoping to hell Bryce would just get up and admit he still loved him.
But the man before him seemed to collapse into himself. “It doesn’t matter,” Bryce whispered in a voice that held so much defeat that Joss wanted to grab him and kiss him back to life.
“It does,” he insisted, determined to get through to Bryce.
With a shudder, Bryce got to his feet and Joss could see him visibly trembling. He appeared utterly lost, his face tight with pain and sorrow, so bleak that Joss struggled to see his Bryce in the crushed man before him.
“You matter,” he told him, praying he’d get through the despair that seemed to have Bryce locked tight in its clutches.
Bryce shook his head again. “I don’t. You said goodbye. You walked away. And I died inside, Joss.” Bryce’s gaze met his and Joss shivered at the raw, bleak pain in the gray eyes he loved. And then his words sliced Joss’s heart like a Ginsu knife. “I died. The Bryce Richardson you knew is gone. What’s left doesn’t matter.”
Impossibly wide shoulders hunched as if to ward off a blow, Bryce turned and walked away. In all the years Joss had known Bryce, he’d never once seen him defeated. But tonight, he had. Maybe Bryce was right. The man he’d known wasn’t the man who walked away from him now, his movements as stiff as an old man’s. But then he remembered the single tear.
Joss began to run, his feet carrying him with precision toward the quarterback. Take him down. Don’t let him get away. Sack the quarterback!
He hit Bryce low, the tackle taking them both to the ground in a hard tangle of limbs. His cock responded to the feel of Bryce beneath him. After all these years, the man still turned him on, the faint whiff of his expensive cologne, the muscles beneath the designer suit still lean and hard and oh, so tempting.
Panting, Joss growled, “You’re out of the pocket, Richardson. No one can protect you now. Not even you.”
Joss meant to finish his words with “You belong to me. Always have, always will”, but he felt the trembling in Bryce’s body, felt the wave of emotion take him over as ragged, incoherent sobs escaped him.
“Joss,” he moaned, eyes closed in pain.
And then Joss knew. Bryce had broken. His proud, fierce warrior had finally broken. He wrapped his arms around Bryce, rocking him as he stroked every part of the man he could reach, trying to tell him with caresses how much he was loved and that he was safe now. Tears seeped from his own eyes as he witnessed the utter anguish of the man he loved.
“Joss,” Bryce whispered again, his voice rough and uneven. He opened his eyes and Joss stared back him, hoping Bryce could see how much he loved him.
“Is it you, Bryce? Really you? My Bryce?”
Bryce sighed, shuddering as his hands and arms went around Joss holding him tightly. When Joss felt Bryce’s face nuzzle into the crook of his neck, he knew he had won. It had taken nearly twenty years and eight years of separation, but Joss had won his man. Silently, he thanked Evan McAdam for getting together with his childhood best friend and he thanked whatever deity had caused Bryce’s meltdown on the air.
“You belong to me. You’ve always belonged to me,” he whispered against Bryce’s ear. “I’m done letting you loan yourself out to all these pretty offense players. You and I need to settle some things between us and then it’s you and me. Forever, Bryce. Do you hear me? Forever.”
A low moan vibrated against Joss’s skin. “I missed you so much.”
The shaking of Bryce’s voice made Joss ache for him. He’d never really stopped to think whether their breakup hurt Bryce. He’d been angry and over the years watching Bryce on TV, looking as if he hadn’t ever experienced a moment of heartache, had made him feel as if Bryce had never cared. Now, he knew the truth. Bryce had cared too much. When he’d forced them to part, he’d killed the sweet, tender part of Bryce, his part of Bryce. Now, he had to make amends.
So yeah. Like most writers, I use my own emotions to bring life to my characters. I pulled a lot of my pain at losing my parents from inside me and played that Evanescence song Lost in Paradise over and over while writing that scene in Out of the Pocket. I think it worked to inject the story with the right amount of pain. And if that scene didn’t make your heart catch, then maybe I didn’t pull enough of my own pain out of its hidey hole. But, I somehow think that with this story…I did.
Many thanks to MANtastic for having me here.
Thank you Lex, for being here!
Lex is offering up an ebook copy of Kissing Joan Collins. To enter, please comment below letting us know what type of romance reader you are. Are you a warm-and-fuzzy? Drama? Suspense? Sexy? Long Haul? Quick-and-easy?
Contest is open until Friday, June 22nd at 11:59 pm (PST). A winner will be randomly selected and notified on Saturday.
Lex has added a print copy of Fire Season to our GRL Reading Challenge Grand Prize. Remember to post your list for your chance to enter.