~ Cara McKenna ~
Welcome to UTC, Cara! Congrats on your new Desert Dogs series! With the abundance of biker books hitting the market right now, what drew you to writing a story about these group of men who love to ride in Fortuity, Nevada?
Thank you! The biker thing was Penguin’s idea, actually. It’s a hot genre, and they were grooming me for a mass market series contract, so we needed to go with a premise they were confident would sell well; I’m not a complete nobody, but I’m not a superstar, either, so we had to aim for a market that had already had some steam behind it. It’s always a gamble, giving an author their first big mass market push. I was up for nearly anything, as long as I got to write explicit sex and use a lot of swear words, and though bikers weren’t strictly on my radar before, it wasn’t a huge leap to take. A lot of my heroes could pass for bikers, if simply given an interest in motorcycles. I already write larger-than-life roughnecks, so it felt natural.
LAY IT DOWN surprised me with its murder suspense plot. What was it like writing a murder mystery? What would you say was the greatest hardship in writing suspense?
Well, it didn’t start out as a mystery! I’m used to writing far quieter stories, with much smaller plots and casts, and as I was trying to plot the first book and flesh out a sustainable arc to last through three more, the concept quickly grew and started shooting off thorny tendrils like a blackberry bush. It was the evolution of a lot of “upping the stakes” efforts. The greatest hardship, as you put it, has been the plotting. I can do it, with the help of excellent editors, but it’s definitely the least intuitive aspect of writing, for me. Sex, characters, tension, mood, setting, dialogue…no problem! But with plot, it’s like I’m color blind or something. I just can’t see it. I can recognize an admire a clever plot in other people’s books, but when I sit down and try to come up with my own…crickets. But my editors have been amazing partners on that front, and I’ve been relieved beyond reason by the early reviews. This entire endeavor has had me in over my head from the get go, but hey, that’s how we grow, right? And I do think, having finished the first draft of book two, that there’s hope for me, plot-wise. My revisions are way less traumatic this time, anyhow!
Vince and Kim have an amazing dynamic. Please describe them each with a single word and explain why you think they complement one another.
One word… For Vince, that would have to be “shameless.” For Kim, probably “pragmatic.” She’s smart and has little patience for bullshit and bluster, while Vince is a walking tower of bravado. She’s not impressed with him at first, and that makes him determined to bone her as soon as possible. I think they complement each other because they’re very close to opposites. Aside from fractured family situations and their sexual chemistry, they really have nothing in common. Luckily, they enjoy the friction that creates.
One big reason why I loved this series is because you have a great cast of characters. Raina and Casey are both characters I’m looking forward to reading more of. What can we expect from them in future books?
Well, I’m revising book two, Give It All, now—you’ll be pleased to know that’s Raina’s book. She’s just as ball-busting in her own story as she is in Lay It Down—actually more so, since Duncan is her love interest, and they toy with each other constantly, circling one another in a perpetual state of snarky foreplay. They’re a very unlikely couple, more unlikely than Kim and Vince, even, but I adore their romance. I adore Raina, period. She never wastes a single moment apologizing, or worrying about other people’s feelings, and hardly ever second-guesses herself. She’s not “spunky,” she’s just un-fuck-with-able. She wears the pants better than any of the men could hope to.
And Casey, oh, Casey. Casey has a couple point-of-view scenes in Give It All, which he spends cramming his foot in his mouth at every available opportunity. For those who haven’t read Lay It Down, Casey is Vince’s younger, red-haired, bearded brother, a combination idiot/genius and a lovable clod who says “motherfucker” as frequently as most young people say “like.” His book—provided the first two don’t completely tank and it gets optioned—is tentatively titled Burn It Up, and it should be pretty intense. And also hilarious, because we’re talking about Casey, here. And readers will finally find out exactly what he’s been up to for the past nine years.
Your dialogue between characters stands out to me because of its upbeat, playful nature. For aspiring writers, what tip would you give to tighten the dialogue in their books?
Thank you! I wish I had some advice to give, but dialogue has always come easy for me. When I write, it sometimes feels as though I’m transcribing interactions from a movie playing in my head, so I just copy down what the characters are saying. It’s 100% intuitive, so sadly I don’t have any useful tips for folks who struggle with it. But I’ve heard people advise that writers read their dialogue aloud, to check if it sounds natural, and I bet that’s a good strategy.
When starting a brand new series, what do you need to know/need before you start writing that first line?
Ooh, a lot. The setting, first and foremost, and the plot arc, both for each book and for the series as a whole. I bet I made notes for a good month before I attempted to really start writing book one. I also had to draw a map of Fortuity, Nevada, so I could keep everything straight; so I’d know weird little details, like, if it’s seven at night and someone’s driving past the bar toward the railroad tracks, they should be squinting against the sun. And where is Benji’s in relation to the Gold Nugget Motor Lodge, or the spot, and how long would it take to get to the ranch from the Sinclair station. I also have a file full of notes on all the characters, vehicles, businesses, and even animals. I don’t want to have to go back and skim Lay It Down every time I need to remember what color Miah’s truck is, or how old Abilene claims to be, or what the name of that older medic is who tends to Casey after John Dancer chloroforms him.
I think it’s safe to call the Desert Dogs a bunch of badasses. What was the last thing you did that readers would consider “badass”?
Oh man… I got a hornet down my shirt while cycling the other day, and it stung my cleavage like, six times. Does that count? Probably not, since if anybody was accomplishing something, it was the hornet and not me… I’m really not a badass. I used to do taekwondo, and while I was quite good at the actual techniques, sparring turned me into a shaky sack of sweat and nervous gas. Um, I competed in a darts tournament once. I traveled to New Zealand on my own. I’ve climbed a decent-sized mountain. I have one tattoo, and own a large knife. I’ve blown glass, though quite poorly. I’ve gotten good at trapping and releasing spiders of all sizes (within reason.) I’ve shot a rifle, pistol, shotgun, and a bow and arrows, all on separate occasions. I’ve been thrown from a horse. I completed P90X. I’ve been bitten many, many times by penguins. I’m on the bone marrow donor registry; I give blood whenever I get the chance, and I’m not afraid of the needle. So, maybe smoosh all those little things together, and hey, I guess I’m not such an indoor cat! Just don’t get me anywhere near any centipedes. I’ll be up on a kitchen chair, shrieking, before you can blink.
Backbreaking days, wild nights, and the hard hum of steel between your thighs…
That’s a life well lived, according to the Desert Dogs—four friends who call Fortuity, Nevada, their badlands home.
Vince Grossier is the self-crowned outlaw king around here. But when Fortuity’s slick new mayor invites a casino development to town, greed isn’t far behind—and it claims Vince’s good friend as its first casualty. With the law turning a blind eye to the mysterious death, Vince must seek his own brand of justice. The pretty photographer hired by the developers might be the key to uncovering the truth. And she’s a temptation too good to pass up.
Finally free of a controlling ex, Kim Paget’s not looking to be taken for a ride—not on the back of some tattooed roughneck’s bike and definitely not in his bed. But when she uncovers evidence supporting Vince’s suspicions of murder, Kim must entrust her safety to a man whose body threatens danger of a whole different kind.
COMING AUGUST 5, 2014
PRE-ORDER “LAY IT DOWN” NOW
Ms. McKenna is giving away three ebook copies of LAY IT DOWN.
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