Now that I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things between GayRomLit and my own writing, I figured it was about time to start up the 5.4.8×5 series once again. Though the interviews will likely post once a month for the time being instead of bi-monthly as I still have a lot going on, I figured who better to kick things off than Geoffrey Knight and the first of his Fathom’s Five Series, The Cross of Sins. No one I can think of does high-octane, gripping the edge of your e-reader, action and adventure better! As he’s co-authoring the first book of a new series with yours truly, I was able to twist his arm into doing and interview with me. ; ) Now that the third book in the Fathom’s series, The Curse of the Dragon God has been released it seems like the right time to present all of you with our conversation about Cross – the book that started a franchise which consistently leaves readers desperate for more.
ED: First I simply have to ask the obvious, which is probably the question you get asked most…but I can’t help it, I have to know…otherwise I’ll be forever imagining a horny teenaged Geoff locked away in his bedroom at night, whispering the name Luca between clenched teeth while doing unmentionable things to himself. : ) This series is like every Indiana Jones/adventure story loving gay boy’s wet dream of a fantasy life come alive on the page…and then some. From the lava tubes off the island of Kahna Toga to the island of Vulcano, The Cross of Sins, book one in the Fathom’s Five series, was a virtually, non-stop thrill ride of suspense, action and hot-n-sweaty man lovin’– so seriously dude, like where the hell did all this come from!?! And how long did you have all of this playing out in your head before you finally sat down and wrote a single word?
GK: Well, seriously dude, it’s been in there for a long time! When it comes to full-length novels I actually have them brewing in my head for years, cooking and bubbling and stewing away until they’re exactly what I want them to be. When it came to kicking off the Fathom’s Five series, I actually jumped in too quickly on my first attempt. It was way back in 2000 and I hadn’t spent nearly enough time hatching the story and characters properly. Back then there was only one lead character (not five). His name was Luca da Roma but he was different to my current Luca. Back then he was on the trail of ancient clues that had been hidden in famous works of art around Europe. But I found that having one hero was too limiting for the scope of what I wanted to write, and within 20,000 words I’d written myself into a hole. Then a little book called The Da Vinci Code was released with a very similar plot (and a few million more sales than mine), so I put the project in the bottom drawer and let it sit there for a very long time. But it never left my head. Then in 2007 I pulled it out and realized it’d work a helluva lot better if I took the Charlie’s Angels approach—multiple protagonists. But of course, more is more in the world of Fathom’s Five, and I thought why settle for three hunks when I could have five of them! So I took a number of hot gay porn stereotypes and moulded them into guys who were as rounded and grounded as I could make them without losing the rollercoaster heroics. Then of course they needed a father-figure, so I borrowed a lot from Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies to create my Professor Fathom. And suddenly every ancient mystery, every corner of the globe, every villainous cult and deadly trap and ruined temple were at my fingertips and I was off and running!
ED: That’s awesome to hear the evolution of what has become an incredible adventure series that has people constantly clamoring for more. I think the real lesson here, especially for the new and would-be writers out there, is that just because an idea doesn’t pan out in the beginning with a little time and patience something even better can bloom from the compost pile of other ideas.
Speaking from the logistical standpoint of threading together the POV’s of so many head-lining protagonists while balancing all of their individual needs, wants, and inner turmoil – what processes do you go through in order to keep it all sorted out? I only ask because I can’t multi-task at all in real life, let alone inside my own head. I’d totally take my hat off if I were wearing one. : )
GK: I can’t multi-task in my head either. It has to be down on paper. And not just on the computer, I mean physically on pieces of paper so I can push everything off my desk and lay out these little pieces of paper and shuffle them around till the narrative works. What I usually do is start with the basic plot—who are the villains, what’s the mystery and what’s the McGuffin (the item of the quest)? Then I come up with locations to suit that particular mystery. Then I plot the course of the novel under the headings of the different locations. For example, I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, The Temple of Time. It’s all about the Mayan Calendar which actually goes back to the Olmecs. So obviously Mexico is the number one location that’s central to the plot, so usually that location becomes the point for the climax so that I can bring all the characters together to the one location to end things with a bang. But then I come up with a number of other locations that thematically gel with the plot and central location. Because The Temple of Time is all about (you guessed it) Time, the other locations in the book pinpoint various models of ancient clocks—so throughout the novel we jet off to Prague to visit an astronomical clock, to Morocco to visit a water clock, and to Amsterdam to visit a wind clock. (Of course, I use the word "visit" very loosely; it’s more like "run, chase, dodge bullets, duck for cover and duck under the covers"). So you can imagine my desk is kinda messy with all those snippets of paper. And my number one rule is: Don’t Turn On The Fan!
ED: Uh oh…no sleep overs for you and me then…I do love me some fan while I sleep. : )
It was obvious to me as I was reading the book how much you cared about each of the protagonists in the book. As much as you seemed to enjoy getting them into mountains of trouble, you also brilliantly found ways to ground each of them with their own flawed reality: Will Hunter who was raised by the family butler, Felix thanks to his neglectful and an altogether absent father, Luca da Roma the orphan raised by nuns who has a deeply ingrained desire to know where he comes from, Jake Stone and his Achilles heel – the homeless teenager Sam, Eden Santiago who at first glance seems like the most pulled together yet has a one time lover who turns out to have meant more than Santiago lets on, and my fave, the cowboy Shane Houston, who stands up to defend a father despite never getting the man’s approval and who risks his own life to save his horse. If you don’t mind, explain what your process was during the plotting and writing of Cross and why you decided to give such weight to these characters when you didn’t really have to? Why was it so important for you to give them each their own lives and loss within the construct of this otherwise fast-paced thrill ride? Why mix the social drama with the testosterone fueled action and adventure?
GK: Great question! I think as a writer, the one thing you have to do above all else is write something that interests you! Because if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, chances are nobody else will be either. So to maintain my own interest in these guys across the bigger canvas of their adventures, I needed to give them their own personal stories and subplots to slowly unravel over the series. Some readers have criticized the books individually for not having enough character development, but in doing so they’re not looking at the bigger picture. If I had solved all my heroes’ individual personal demons in the first book, I’d have nothing else to work with in subsequent books. Luca’s a great example of this: he doesn’t know who he is, where he came from, but in each book he and the reader get closer and closer to figuring out his past until eventually the secret to Luca’s true identity becomes the major plot of Book 7 (and trust me, it’s a humdinger!). The same goes for Jake. Who he is and why he does what he does (and Sam’s real identity) don’t actually come to light until later books, but all the clues are there in the previous books. You just have to look for them. So yes, I’m working on a very big canvas, and when someone says there’s no character development I’d love to say "Yes there is" and show them everything that’s slowly unraveling before their eyes, but then that would spoil a LOT of secrets and mysteries yet to come! My only advice is, take EVERYTHING in! Every word, every scene, is there for a reason.
ED: You’ll never hear me complaining – I love a good tease.
Now we can get down to the romance – from the moment Jacques Dumas entered the picture in Venice you let us know immediately with one simple sentence exactly what this man had meant to Eden who was unable to lie to the sexy Frenchman. Their entire past is fully illuminated with that one admission from Eden who then wondered to himself why he ever allowed Jacques to slip away. Dumas even mentioned some unanswered letters he’d sent to Eden at some point in their past. It’s made evident that it wasn’t a nasty break-up and it struck me as odd considering that up until this point in the book, Eden seemed to be the only one of the five who appeared completely comfortable in his own skin. It was almost a little shocking to me since I’d already formed such a strong picture of who Santiago was, but I found myself liking the character so much more because of it. I certainly have my own theories as to why but I wondered what you believed was the real reason Eden let go of Jacques go all those years ago?
GK: Ah, Jacques! I love Jacques, I think he’s a great character who, after the first adventure in The Cross of Sins had a very major role to play in the second book, The Riddle of the Sands. In fact, he featured in almost half the book and had quite an adventure in the Amazon with Eden, all the while revealing more about their past and the reasons their romance didn’t work—but might possibly work again. Unfortunately, Riddle finished up WAY too long. At 500 pages, my publisher told me it was too long, and they were right. So I had to cut 200 pages (yikes!). That was a VERY tough thing to do, and I learned a lot from the process. After a few days of wondering how the hell I was going to lose almost half the book without completely scrambling the plot, I realized Jacques and the big Amazon adventure was going to have to go! I still sent Eden to the Amazon, but I had to write Jacques out of that subplot completely and shorten Eden’s journey dramatically. In the end it works for the book. The bad news is poor old Jacques doesn’t get a mention at all in the novel now. The good news is he will come back in an upcoming book to play one third of a love triangle. My lips are sealed as to who, when, why and how!
ED: LOL…you’re the biggest tease!
Perhaps it’s just me and my own romanticism about you Aussie boys, but would you agree that some of that sense of adventure, which you’ve folded into the pages of your fiction is inherent, a by-product of that awesomely unique country from which you hail, or am I merely deluding myself with visions of me & Hugh Jackman on the back of his trusty steed? : )
GK: I like that vision of Hugh Jackman! Unfortunately I’m nothing like Hugh and if you threw me into the pages of one of my adventures, well, let’s just say those car chases would be short-lived and I’d most certainly pass out if someone shot me in the arm. But having said that, yes, Australia is a naturally adventurous country and you do grow up learning how to treat a snake bite, or what to do if a shark is circling you, or knowing where and when to swim despite the heat and the temptation to jump into any old waterhole; not that I’ve ever had to dodge a shark, but growing up in country towns I’ve certainly had my fair share of run-ins with snakes. We actually have all 10 of the Top 10 Deadliest Snakes in the world here in our backyard. There’s a snake scene in my latest ebook The Seventh Wave (which is partly set in Australia’s outback) which brought back more than a few of my own snake adventures. But to be honest I think my love of adventure stems more from being a movie-loving kid growing up in a small town with one old run-down picture theatre, staring up at the screen wide-eyed and in awe of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (If ever I meet him, I owe Mr. Spielberg a drink!)
Somewhere in the world is a statue so sinful that a secret sect of the Church wants it destroyed at any cost. Somewhere in the Turkish desert, in the streets of London, and in the depths of Venice, are the clues to find it. And, somewhere in the hearts of five sexy, daring, thrill-seeking gay men, is the courage and die-hard determination to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of all time.
Meet Luca da Roma, an Italian model and expert in art, both ancient and modern; Dr Eden Santiago, Brazilian biologist, physician and genetic engineer; Shane Houston, a Texas cowboy and an expert in cartography; Will Hunter, a San Diego college student and football star, majoring in ancient history; and Jake Stone, an adventurer-for-hire from New York and the newest member of Professor Fathom’s team of hot gay adventure seekers.
Together, they are Fathom’s Five, traveling the world, solving ancient mysteries, uncovering priceless treasures, and getting into hot, sticky and sexy situations, while thwarting danger at every turn! From Venice to Vienna, from Tuscany to Turkey, from the South Pacific to the seas off Sicily, join in the heroic adventures, hunky sex and hot, high-octane action of THE CROSS OF SINS.
THE CROSS OF SINS – EXCERPT
Shane and his mother let the screen door slam and pounded the boards of the dilapidated porch, far enough away from the door so that Claudius couldn’t hear them.
As darkness fell and distant thunder echoed off the mountains, both Shane and Gertie started talking at once. But it was Shane who had the louder voice.
“Gertie, what the hell are you doin’? Has he asked you to marry him? After what he did to our family!”
“Shane, he did nothing to our family.”
“Gertie, he drained the entire well. He bled us dry and made billions. And left Dad broke.”
“What your daddy did, he did to himself. I don’t know why you’re taking his side, anyway. We both know he was a mean, angry drunk. You and he never once saw eye to eye! And stop callin’ me Gertie in front of Claudius! He’s a gentleman. And yes, he did ask me to marry him. And I said yes!”
“Because, dammit Shane, I’m lonely!”
“You’ve got me!”
“No, I don’t! You’ve got your own life! Shane, I love you. And in a lot of ways I loved your father too, despite the things he said and the way he acted. But now I need you to understand my life too. I’m all alone, Shane.”
She reached for him then and touched his arm. Her shawl fell from her shoulder down to her elbow.
“Honey, you know nobody will ever take the place of you. But Claudius, he makes me feel alive. And for an old woman—”
“Ma, you ain’t old.”
“I’m getting old. And since you left home, I get lonely too. And these days, when someone knocks on my door, I open it. And I ask them in for a cup of tea.”
“Ma, I don’t think Claudius is here for a cup of tea—”
“Hush!” scolded Gertie. “He keeps me company.”
Shane sighed and wrapped his mother’s shawl up around her shoulder. “He doesn’t treat you bad?”
Gertie shook her head. “Heavens, no! Not at all.”
“What can he give you?”
“He’s got big dreams, Shane! He tells me he’s working on something incredible! Something to do with new energy. Something that’ll change the world. I don’t know what it is, but he tells me he’s cooking up a storm!”
“Yeah, but does he cook you dinner?”
Gertie laughed. “Goodness, I haven’t met a man yet who can.”
“Gertie, you need to meet more gay men.”
Gertrude eyed him with a soft anger. “Shane Houston, I told you about that Gertie thing!”
Shane sighed. “Yes, Ma.”
Gertie smiled and pecked her son on the cheek.
He wrapped his strong arms around her then. Either his arms and shoulders had gotten bigger than she remembered, or she’d gotten smaller. It didn’t matter.
“Just be careful,” he whispered into her neck as he hugged her tight. “I worry about you!”
As another bolt of lightning illuminated the distant sky, Arturo and Acacia galloped across the paddock toward the house. Shane could hear them. And he smiled.
Tomorrow he would take all three of them out—including young Jax—and let them run wild in the sun, trampling the earth, grazing the prairie, having fun. Just Shane and his horses.
“I’d better get these guys into the stable,” he said now. “That thunder’s getting closer.”
“And I’d better get back inside and make sure Claudius is alright.”
Gertie kissed him on the cheek once more and headed through the screen door.
Shane stepped down off the porch as Arturo and Acacia approached. He immediately sensed their anxiety. He saw their wide-eyed fear.
“Whoa, whoa, guys! You okay?”
Suddenly Shane realized that Jax was nowhere to be seen.
Riding Arturo bareback, with Acacia by their side, Shane and the horses thundered across the land as the sky thundered above them. They came to a halt, Arturo rearing upward, at the edge of a shallow ravine.
Shane jumped from Arturo’s back and stood staring down into the dark.
He heard a frightened whinny, then, as lightning shot across the sky, he caught a glimpse of young Jax, trapped in the gully. He seemed unharmed, but somehow he had managed to fall or find his way down there and couldn’t get back up.
Shane quickly sized up the steep ravine. “I’m comin’ little buddy! Hold on!” Then he turned to Arturo. “Arturo. Rope! I need you to get me a rope from the stables. Rope! Do you understand?”
Arturo’s head bucked up and down, his hooves clomping, and as swiftly as he raced across the ranch, he disappeared into the darkness.
At that moment the heavens opened and the rain came down in a deluge.
It turned the sides of the ravine into a muddy slippery slide as Shane scrambled and rolled his way down, his clothes soaked through by the time he hit the floor of the ravine.
Jax came bounding up to him.
“Hey, mister! You okay? You hurt?” Shane checked the colt’s lanky legs, his hips, his ribs. No broken bones. Now all they had to do was find a way out.
Shane knelt in the pelting rain and stroked Jax’s wet coat. “Okay little buddy, here’s the deal. You’re gonna be brave and let me sling you over my shoulders, okay? Then you and me are gonna climb our way outta here.” He glanced up the wall of the ravine to see it quickly turning into a mudslide, then added, “Somehow.”
With some effort, Shane hoisted Jax over his shoulders and felt the weight. “Damn, you’re a growin’ boy, ain’t ya!” Then, with his fingers clawing into the mud and boots finding footholes wherever he could, the young cowboy started to climb his way out of the ravine.
He got six feet up when thunder cracked across the sky.
Jax squirmed nervously.
Shane lost his grip and slid all the way to the bottom again.
“Okay,” he panted to himself. “Maybe this is gonna take a little longer than I thought.”
He started clambering up the embankment again. Just then the rain got heavier. It poured over the brim of his hat. He had trouble seeing what he was doing, feeling his way, making a grab for a ledge or a sturdy-looking shrub with each flash of lightning.
Then the mud beneath his left foot gave way, the rocks in his right hand came loose, and Shane once again slid to the bottom of the ravine with an increasingly-frightened colt on his back.
That’s when both man and colt heard Arturo’s whinny at the top of the embankment.
Shane looked up and a coiled rope landed across his face. “Ow!”
Then suddenly he heard another sound.
Not Arturo’s whinny from above.
This was something altogether different.
Shane looked quickly up to the opened heavens, then left, where the ravine ran all the way up to the mountains. And all he could whisper was, “Oh shit!”
Quickly he hoisted Jax off his shoulders.
He ripped off his drenched shirt, the weight of it slowing him down.
He took the rope in both hands in seconds made a lasso out of it. “Arturo!”
The crashing roar—the sound of a fast-approaching flashflood—grew louder and louder. There was no telling how far away it was. Minutes. Maybe only seconds.
Jax gave a scared whimper and begin to trot in the opposite direction of the coming flood.
Shane dropped the rope and tackled him. “No, Jax. Stay with me.”
With colt in one hand, Shane scrambled back to the rope. “Arturo! Are you there?”
Arturo’s head appeared over the top of the embankment. Lightning broke the sky above him. Thunder belted across the night, setting the angry clouds aglow. And getting closer by the second—
—the rush of the killer flashflood.
Shane swung the lasso over his head and threw it hard and high. The loop landed over Arturo’s head and slid down his neck.
Shane grabbed Jax and slung him over his shoulders once more. He tangled the roped around his wrists, looked up and screamed, “Arturo! Pull!!!”
As the mighty stallion backed up, the rope snapped tight, hauling Shane and the colt upward. Shane dug his boots into the muddy, collapsing wall as best he could, taking huge strides upward, trying to help Arturo as the horse pulled on the straining rope.
For the dark of the ravine, the roar became deafening.
The rope cut deep into Shane hands and wrists.
Still he pushed upward with every kick and stride.
Arturo pulled backward, his hooves slipping in the mud.
Lightning flashed, and Shane glanced left once more. That’s when he saw the wall of water appear, destroying a corner of the ravine a hundred feet away as it tore its way toward them.
“Arturo! Pull! Pull!”
Arturo gave it all he had, sliding and stamping backward through the mud.
Jax saw the wall of water coming for them and began to kick and buck.
Shane held on tight.
Pushing and kicking higher and higher.
Mud sliding under his boots.
He felt the spray of water jetting down the ravine toward them. It smacked against his face, his arms. It would only be a matter of seconds before—
—the flood hit the base of the embankment and devoured it.
Everything began to slide downward as the rushing water rose. Fast!
The wall slipped into a mudslide.
Shane’s footing went with it.
The torrent of water slammed into his feet, trying to drag them down as the flood quickly rose.
The rope lurched higher.
The flood took out half the wall.
It pulled down on Shane’s legs.
Grabbed hold of his bare waist.
Jax kicked and panicked.
Arturo pulled as hard and fast as he could.
Shane felt the tangle of ropes around his hands and wrists begin to give.
Shane hit the edge of the ravine.
He threw Jax to safety.
He felt Acacia bite painfully into his shoulder, trying to pull him out of harm’s way as Arturo continued pulling on the rope at the same time.
Dragging him clear of the hungry flood that ripped apart the ravine.
Flat on his back, heaving with fear, adrenaline, relief, Shane lifted himself on his elbows and in a flash of lightning saw Acacia sheltering a scared but safe Jax.
Then he felt Arturo nudge his shoulder to make sure he was okay.
Shane let out a sigh and stroked Arturo’s mane. “Thank you,” was all he could manage before collapsing on his back in the mud.