Today I’m posting an interview with the lovely and talented Sloan Parker, author of More, Take Me Home, and the subject of today’s interview, Breathe – 1st place winner of the 2011 Rainbow Awards in the Contemporary Romance category among several others. Along with the above mentioned, Sloan is also a fantastic friend – I know as she spent an entire Saturday evening chatting with me back in the summer of 2010 in which we did everything but braid one another’s hair. That likely only went by the wayside because it was an instant message chat due to the fact we were each in separate parts of the country at the time. Apparently, I’m cheap and easy – able to be had and held for a lifetime of friendship after only one marathon heart to heart. : )
SP: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with cheap and easy. Although, it’s definitely more along the lines of you being a fabulous guy that makes you such a good friend. That chat was more fun than anything else that can be had on a Saturday evening. Well, almost anything.
Thanks for the wonderful introduction and for letting me ramble on your blog today, Ethan!
ED: Let me begin by saying congratulations again for your win in Elisa Rolle’s 2011 Rainbow Awards. I think it well deserved as I thoroughly enjoyed Breathe. One of the things I found most interesting with this book was your use of hate as an underlying theme throughout. It comes in more than one form, but what struck me as unusual was that the gay aspect wasn’t front and center. We often see the use of anti-gay bigotry as a plot device in gay romance. It’s all too familiar obstacle to that happily-ever-after. In Breathe, however – the hatred came more from the sense of familial loss over the life not lived due to the death of one character that resulted from the actions of another. The gay aspect was almost secondary – just another log on an already ignited fire burning out of control. Was hate something you purposely chose as an underlying obstacle but determined to use in a different way?
SP: First, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you enjoyed Breathe. Thank you for checking it out and for the congrats on the Rainbow awards. Hearing about the wins for Breathe was quite a surreal moment for me. So many people cautioned me about writing that story. It feels good to know people have been moved by Jay and Lincoln’s story.
Definitely, hate was a big part of what I wanted to explore in Breathe. The idea that holding on to anger and grief and blame can ultimately do more damage to the wronged parties than the original loss they suffered through. It was part of the book’s plan from day one. That level of hate was inspired from real-life moments that I witnessed after an accidental death of someone in my hometown. The people I watched throw out insults with malicious vehemence didn’t even know the man responsible for the accident, and I was very disturbed be the entire situation. I guess I felt compelled to channel the hate I’d witnessed into a love story.
ED: I found your use of setting to be purposeful outside of the obvious world building aspect of writing. Everything surrounding these characters remained rather stark throughout: the houses or rooms in which they resided, the bar they went to for drinks, the anti-gay oppression which can still be quite prevalent in small town USA, even the gloomy winter weather that seemed to never end. It was as if Lincoln and Jay were trapped in a world of grey. I think it provided an almost pin-point focus on the two men and their growing relationship – as if they were the only thing in their world highlighted in color. Was this something that came to you organically throughout the writing process or was it part of the plotting from the very beginning?
SP: I’m so glad you mentioned the setting and weather, and I loved the way you described it. That’s exactly what I was hoping for. I wanted the bleak surroundings and the onslaught of the winter weather to help illustrate where each man was emotionally, that is until the final moments when Jay is at the cemetery alone and then later when he goes to see Lincoln. Only then was the spring weather starting to break through, and only then were the two of them really able to think about moving on and accepting the hope of a different future.
I outline every story and make several passes through it while revising and editing. The use of the settings and the winter weather to help set the mood was definitely something I planned out, though not every detail came to me until several passes through revising. I tend to have an overall idea of what I want to accomplish with those kinds of things, but it takes me several times through the story to layer it in with the plot and character interactions. Otherwise it feels forced to me, and ultimately probably would to the readers as well.
ED: Lincoln in particular, despite having been released from prison when the story begins, appears to still be very much in a prison of his own making. The guy never really lets up on himself, and even as the book came to a close, I’m not sure I ever felt he totally let it all go. Was this something you intended from the onset, and do you believe he ever completed his journey from self loathing to forgiveness?
SP: I just want to give you a giant hug. A prison of his own making is a great description. That’s exactly where Lincoln was at the opening of this book. He was the first character I envisioned for this story and was the one I wanted to help heal before I even dreamed up who Jay would be. From the very start, I wanted to make Linc a likeable guy who was such a good person that he couldn’t forgive himself, couldn’t let himself out of those prison walls he’d built up around him.
I think at the close of the story, he has a real shot at moving on. I don’t think that would’ve been possible without Jay’s forgiveness and love. Lincoln will never be the same man he was before the accident, and I don’t think he’ll ever completely let go of the guilt, but I believe that through building a life with Jay and working to be a part of what makes Jay happy, Lincoln will find a purpose in his life (along with caring for his sis and her kids). That purpose will allow him to live a more peaceful existence than where he started at the beginning of Breathe.
I’ve written a draft of an epilogue that I almost included in the book. Ultimately, I decided the ending was stronger without it and didn’t even finish polishing it. Someday soon I hope to get that revised and posted on my website so readers can see a bit of the future for Linc and Jay together.
ED: As someone who’s never been a fan of the gay-for-you storyline, which after hearing bits and pieces of the storyline from other people was what I assumed I’d be getting into with this book, I was pleasantly surprised and found it a refreshing change for Jay’s character to be a true bi-sexual. He’s attracted to both men and women yet manages to maintain a monogamous relationship with whomever he finds himself with at the time. It was something he never hid from his wife, though he did conceal that part of himself from his parents and in-laws. But I somehow got the feeling that had he met and fell in love with a man as opposed to a woman first that wouldn’t have been the case – that the only reason he actually hid that part of himself was because he’d never had a reason to do otherwise. That complete honesty within Jay’s marital relationship is an aspect of his personality that I’ve found accurate with regard to the few real-life bi-sexual men I’ve met over the years. Was this something that was important for you to show when creating this character or did it present itself to you organically as a result of the needs of the story you wanted to tell?
SP: Jay’s bisexuality was a very important part of the story for me (and another intentional element. Apparently I didn’t write much of this one organically. LOL). I purposely didn’t want it to be something he hid from his wife. I think people too often assume when someone realizes he or she is bisexual, they are automatically going to leave the person they are with and run out to explore that part of themselves. That’s just not always the case. As for many-real life bisexuals, they share that insight with their partner and discuss it openly. In Breathe, I didn’t want Jay’s own acceptance of who he was to be an important internal conflict for him. He’d already accepted that as a part of himself. Now, with Lincoln, he was able to explore that physically as well. I’ve heard from readers who were surprised there wasn’t more made of his “coming out.” But as you said, if Jay had fallen in love with a man first instead of his wife, he would’ve brought that person home to meet his family and all would have been revealed about his bisexuality earlier in his life. His internal conflict had much more to do with a perceived betrayal of his wife because of who Lincoln was, not because Lincoln was a man.
ED: Lastly is one of the things that impressed me most about this story, the overall concept of one man falling in love with another man who happens to be responsible for the death of his spouse. It vaguely reminded me of a film I love called, Return to Me – where a man unknowingly falls in love with the woman who received the heart of his first wife (killed by a drunk driver) as an organ transplant. Was there an intent behind it – some particular theme you wanted to play into or simply a really cool idea that happily came to you.
SP: Love that film! You know, I’ve never thought of it in relation to Breathe before.
The original idea for Breathe came about several years ago when there was a tragic car accident a few miles from where I live. A young woman was killed in the crash as well as her unborn child. Her young son and husband, who were also in the car, were both injured but survived. It was such a sad story. My heart broke for that family. Sometime later, I saw footage on the local news of the man who had accidentally caused the crash. He was in the courtroom for his hearing and was talking to the woman’s family. I didn’t really hear what he was saying (I had the TV muted), but the look of misery and despair on his face was genuine and something I’ll never forget.
Naturally I felt horrible for the family that had lost this woman, but I also couldn’t get the other man out of my mind. Would he ever be happy again? Ever smile? Laugh? Love? Ever be able to forgive himself?
Not long after that night, I had several pages of notes about Lincoln and Jay. I wanted to create two characters who were decent, caring guys stuck in an impossible situation. I wanted them to learn to accept that forgiveness and love could make a difference in their lives. I wanted them to learn to love again. The more I wrote about Jay and Lincoln, the more I had to follow them to their happy ending.
ED: Thank you once again for taking the time to answer all my annoyingly nosy questions Sloan! Congratulations once more on the well deserved success of the book. : )
SP: Thank you so much, Ethan. These questions were far from annoying. They were some of the best ones I’ve been asked about this book. I absolutely loved the way you described the story elements. Thanks again!!
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Lincoln McCaw lost everything—his home, his job, his partner—after he caused a fatal accident. A year later, he’s drowning the guilt and despair in whiskey, but he needs to move on. His sister and her kids are counting on him. Then he meets a man who ignites a passion Lincoln thought he’d never find. Too bad one night is all they can have together. Now he needs to figure out how to turn away from the only person who makes him feel alive…before whoever is sending him threats decides Lincoln needs to suffer more than he already has.
Jay Miller is surrounded by grief and misery until he finally gives in to all those years of sexual fantasies about being with another guy. Realizing he’s ended up in the arms of the man who caused his wife’s accident, he tries to pull away. But how can he give up a friendship he needs more than anything—a friendship and a love that could save him? He may not have time to make the choice before someone else destroys it all.
Excerpt of Breathe by Sloan Parker
“God, you sure are a cute one.”
Jay cracked a smile as the woman at the far end of the bar flirted with the dark-haired man wearing a leather jacket. She had no clue she’d already lost the game. Not only was Dark Eyes gay, he also looked as lost as he had when Jay first saw him. No one stood a chance with someone who obviously wanted to be left alone the way he did.
She kept at it, though. “Come on. Buy me a drink.” She ran her long, pink fingernails through the hair above his ear. Dark Eyes swatted her hand away and returned his attention to the glass that held something stronger than beer, gripping it with both hands.
Jay couldn’t blame her for trying. Dark Eyes looked good in the black leather and faded jeans, his dark hair and skin a temptation for the fingers. Jay clutched his beer and took a swallow before setting it on the table he’d grabbed ten minutes earlier.
Sonny’s Tavern was crowded, the eligible singles mixing with the heavy drinkers. Most–like the woman hitting on Dark Eyes–not knowing how to tell the difference between the two. The Friday night crowd was more animated than the last night Jay had been in. A group of couples danced near the back wall, creating a makeshift dance floor. There was a different bartender on duty, the television and music overhead were louder, but the same old man sat sipping whiskey near the restrooms.
Jay drank more of his beer and waited. It wouldn’t take long.
By the time he finished the beer, the bar stool next to Dark Eyes was empty, the chatty blonde desperate for a free drink–and possibly more–had moved on. Jay waved for another beer, dropped onto the stool, and said, “Hey.”
Dark Eyes ignored him and stood.
Apparently Jay sucked at the flirting thing. Which made sense. He hadn’t dated many girls. The only one other than Katie had been a fellow classmate he’d agreed to go to the homecoming dance with his junior year during the five weeks he and Katie had their one breakup.
Dark Eyes removed his jacket, laid the leather over the bar, and sat again. The muscles of his arm flexed as he lifted the glass for a drink. The hint of a tattoo peeked out from under the T-shirt’s sleeve. An outline of an eagle feather.
“Do I know you?” Dark Eyes asked.
And here Jay was picturing what it would be like to blow the guy. He’d always wanted to know. Always imagined he’d like sucking cock and couldn’t stop dreaming of doing it to Dark Eyes since the man had walked out of the bar the other night. Was it because Jay knew Dark Eyes was gay?
No. This guy was a total turn-on for him. He’d only been sitting next to the man long enough for one smoke, and already all Jay’s fantasies were roaring to life.
“I uh…I was in here the other night.”
“I remember,” Dark Eyes said. “Saw you outside the night before that too. Thought maybe I’d seen you somewhere else, though.” He slid the bowl of peanuts toward Jay.
Jay stilled the spinning bowl. “Don’t think so. I’d remember meeting you.” Heat rose in his cheeks. Shut up! But did he want to? He nodded to the TV. “You watching the game?”
“Nah. I gave up last half.”
“Guess I didn’t miss much excitement, then. I had to work late.”
Dark Eyes removed one hand from his glass. He made like he was going to take a drink. “Where do you work?” The question came out in a rush before the glass hit his lips.
“Stacking loads at McNeil’s Lumber Yard.” Jay made eye contact with the man. Neither looked away. A nervous jolt shot from his gut to his groin. “It’s a shit job, but I’m lucky to have it. I was going to college but, I…uh, I had to quit. And since they won’t let you teach high school history without a college degree, or a teacher’s license for that matter, I’m stuck with whatever pays the bills.”
Dark Eyes let go of his drink and turned on the stool a fraction of an inch in Jay’s direction. The slight curve of his lips wasn’t as unnerving as the intense stare.
Jay kept talking. “History’s always been my thing. Since I was a kid. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for wanting to teach high schoolers, but there’s a lot we can learn from history.” And why was he sharing any of this?
The grin on the other man’s face grew. “You always talk this much?”
Jay shrugged and sipped the beer he’d forgotten he had. “I don’t know.” He laughed. That statement was worth a laugh–the first real one in over a year–considering Todd’s recent comments about how he hadn’t been talking much anymore.
“What’s funny?” Dark Eyes asked.
“Nothing. What do you do?”
“Just started over at the steel plant. Used to drive loads for them years back.” Dark Eyes gripped his glass again, clutching it in one hand. The other joined the first until he held on to it with both hands. What would those hands feel like when they touched Jay’s body? His ass? His dick? What would those arms feel like wrapped around him? How would the skin of that neck taste? What would that dark hair feel like when he grasped the man’s head in his hands while Dark Eyes blew him?
Jay breathed deep. Fantasies…just a fantasy. He wasn’t ready for anything physical with anyone. Was he?
Before that week, he hadn’t been ready for so much as a one-night stand. When he let himself get close to someone, all his thoughts would turn to Katie and every sexual moment they’d spent together. He hadn’t wanted to go there, especially not for a quick fuck to please his cock.
Had that changed?
His body was ready, but was he?
Maybe someday…a roll in the hay with a woman. Maybe even with a guy. Might be nice to know if all those fantasies had been leading him on about what he wanted–or whom he wanted it with. But not yet. Not after only a year.
Then why had he sat next to the guy in the first place? Why had he looked for the man?
Dark Eyes leaned his upper body in close, almost touching Jay’s arm. That rattled him out of his trance. Damn, he’d been staring at the man for too long. The husky whisper as Dark Eyes spoke did nothing to aid Jay in regaining his concentration.
“Quit looking at me like that, kid. Unless you’re willing to back it up.”
Oh God. Maybe the flirting had gone better than Jay thought.
The only sexual experience he had other than Katie was the ten-minute fuck in the back of Christy Harper’s car on homecoming night. He’d gotten off, but it hadn’t been anything special. He’d put every last minute of it out of his mind as soon as he and Katie had made up.
The weeks they’d spent apart were the worst weeks of his life until a year ago.
No. The worst part was telling Katie about what he’d done with Christy. Katie had gone on her own date, and Jay hated hearing about the kissing and groping she’d done. He could only imagine how much it hurt Katie to listen to his confession about his backseat “date.” He made a promise to himself as he drove her home that night, both of them sitting in the front seat of the Jeep in silence. He’d never hurt her again. Never cheat again. Even though she said he hadn’t technically cheated and she understood how it had happened, it sure had felt as though he’d been unfaithful. He never wanted to feel that way again. Never wanted any other person pleasuring him. Only her.
And now here he was hoping another guy was interested in him.
How had he given this guy the right signals? Or the wrong ones? And how was he supposed to respond?
Jay licked his dry lips and forced his attention on the TV above the bar. Commercials. Something with beer and babes in bikinis. How apropos.
“Kid.” That one word in the low, deep voice had him facing Dark Eyes again. Jay barely heard the whispered command over the sound of the country music. “Give it a few minutes, then meet me out back.” Dark Eyes stood, threw some wadded cash onto the bar, grabbed his coat, and exited out the back entrance that led to the rear parking lot. The music and crowd in Sonny’s muffled the bang of the door closing behind Dark Eyes.
Jay turned to the bar. He needed to leave. Out the front entrance. Now.
Why wouldn’t his legs help him out? He guzzled his beer in four tries, dropped the bottle onto the bar, and stood. What the hell?
He walked toward the back door at a quick clip, hoping no one knew where he was going.
Copyright 2010. Sloan Parker. All Rights Reserved.
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