Welcome back to UTC, Damon! We are over the moon that you finally have a new book out for us fans. All good things are worth waiting for. Congrats on the release of PENT UP!
Your tagline for this book is definitely intriguing: “mix business with pleasure and take cover.” Can you tell us a little more about Ruben Oso and how he differs from Andy Bauer?
These two really are like one of those explosive compounds that’s inert until you mash the two elements together.
Ruben Oso is from blue collar Miami, a boot-camp drop out who just came out of a rocky divorce and got sober before he moved to NYC to work for his brother’s security company. He’s Colombian by heritage and American by birth, so he never learned to speak Spanish. By contrast, Andy grew up wealthy in Westchester, a plush white-collar suburb north of Manhattan: the best schools, the right clubs, and the ideal pedigree for a kickass career in high-end finance.
The thing is, both men have preconceptions and fantasies about the other side of the tracks. A lot of the book’s tension comes from their illusions and misconceptions about the life they haven’t led. That laid tons of groundwork for an intense out-for-you story…and also the paranoia and suspicion of the romantic suspense.
Have you had this story in your head for a while? What was your inspiration for it?
Yes and no. I’ve been wanting to write a romantic suspense for a couple years, and I love the way bodyguard stories play with voyeurism and violence. So that part was in my head…then it mutated. LOL
Pent Up started as a fun diversion after Bad Idea; originally it began as a fast tight bodyguard/billionaire romantic suspense. I actually finished the book in March of 2014, but then it got rewritten several times and expanded from a fairly strict category into something more fun and funky. The expansion let me play more with the notion of class and financial crime because of the way those things sparked and shaped Ruben and Andy’s relationship.
I used to live on the Upper East Side, and that kind of insane wealth creates so many fabulous motives for a romantic suspense. Plus you get all the high-priced escapism as icing because in that world money is both no object and everyone’s raison d’etre.
Was there a particular scene you struggled with writing in this book? If so, why?
Absolutely. What I think of as the “Scooby Doo” scene which takes up Chapter 17. Jeez Louise that one put hair on my chest.
The romantic suspense meant I needed this story to feel raw and visceral. That put wacky pressure on the puzzle-piecing scene to unravel the larger mystery without ruining the sense of danger ahead. Because I’m obstreperous, I couldn’t just write a bodyguard protecting a celebrity book, which is much simpler to unpack…No, I had to blend in high-ticket whitecollar crime because the story demanded it.
In the end, this scene had to walk this fine line between glossing over and dissecting the particulars of an ongoing financial crime without overwhelming the story or my readers. At every stage this chapter got fine sifting to clean out the lumps but save the flavor. That was a helluva thing. I probably rewrote that chapter forty or fifty times to hit the balance between solving the mystery and eliding the unnecessary details, while still giving Ruben and Andy their due. Really tricky task, that, and when I finally got it right I went out to celebrate.
There’s a great mix of tropes in this book that make it a very diverse story, dealing with class and race differences as well as an out-for-you trope (a favorite of mine). Was all this something you plotted out? Or do you consider yourself more of a pantser and it just came to you that way as you went along?
LOL No, I’m definitely a hardcore plotter. I always tell my students: romance IS a plot. You know the ending, so no matter how little you think you’re plotting that HEA plot is always hanging over you. Frankly, I love the structure of it and love exploring the possibilities.
Because Pent Up started out as a category, I really went for broke with some of my favorite tropes. I have a list from my early notes that pretty much lays out all the things I wanted to play with in the story: Bodyguard (e.g. Surveillance & Voyeurism, Assault/Abduction & Rescue, Glitz), Zillionaire Playboy, Out-for-you, Opposites Attract (Brute/Suit, Anglo/Hispanic, Blue collar/White collar), Workplace Romance, “Latin” Lover, Secret Identity, Makeover, Secret crush(es), Reformed Rogue(s), Wounded Hero(s), Culture Clash (gentle bruiser with DNA from Colombia vs. whitebread broker with MBA from Columbia).
As soon as the writing started, Ruben and Andy stepped in and personalized the abstractions for me and the tropes took on a life of their own, as they do. Really fun way to work in the end.
Let’s get more personal shall we? If you had to write a warning about yourself to give to someone who has never met you before, what would it be?
I’m an extremist in ideology but a moderate in practice. The first con I ever went to, fans told me that they were anxious about meeting me because my writing seemed so raw and aggressive, but in person that energy plays out in a playful way. Even when my ideas crazy or shocking, my application of those ideas is tempered by my life experience and a keen awareness of the folks around me.
The thing is, I have very strong opinions about things and I love confrontation, but I also feel like we need to help each other stand in the light. Will I face down bullshit and hypocrisy? Sh’yeah! But I feel like the resting position for any interactions we have should be graciousness. Life is short and we all deserve a measure of grace. One of my favorite things about romance is the way it articulates hope and desire so we can discuss them. That requires a lot of vulnerability and courage in equal measure.
Common ground is more common than we think. I write explicit, extravagant gay romance and yet some of my closest friends in the romance industry are Red-state inspirational authors. That kind of friendly friction is precious. We NEED friction. As my mother used to say, “If it wasn’t for friction, fucking wouldn’t feel good.”
As you know, many readers have fallen in love with your characters after reading HOT HEAD (and they desperately want to read more from them). How do you deal with the pressure and put that aside to sit and write something that fans can enjoy?
With gratitude and caution. The rough draft of Hard Head (the sequel to Hot Head) has been written for a while, but it’s in appalling shape because I really feel the pressure to make the fans happy.
I’ve gotten plenty of joyful encouragement, bribe offers, and even death threats. I showed Heidi Cullinan my inbox once — thousands and thousands of emails with suggestions, threats, prayers, and helpful nudges– and she curled into a fetal ball. There are massive review pages for a book that isn’t even edited yet. Fans do it out of love, but it’s a lot to live up to.
Is it tough? Yeah, but it’s also a problem I’m grateful to have. I feel so blessed. To have thousands and thousands of people love those characters as much as I do? Priceless. And also paralyzing at times. No matter what happens, many people will HATE me when Hard Head comes out because I disappointed them, and that is a really intense burden. I won’t lie: it keeps me awake some nights. My anxiety about fucking up Hard Head still locks me up sometimes.
Let’s put it this way: my hair was auburn when Hot Head came out, and now it’s almost solid gray. When Hard Head comes out, it’ll be because I’ve made peace with the rage and disappointment that will accompany the positive reactions.
Your stories are set in Manhattan, which is where you live. How important is that in your writing and do you ever see yourself writing a story set elsewhere?
I love New York on so many levels, and there’s so much color, richness, and texture to it that I love exploring it in the books. So far, the only book I’ve written not set in Manhattan (Grown Men) is literally set on a planetoid in outer space.
Location is critical to me. I feel like setting is always another character in a story. Likewise, if I can’t completely imagine a scene then I feel like I’ll fudge the details and the story suffers. We’ve all read books where the characters seem to float in undefined space with generic descriptors (a tree, a bed, a porch) and they drive me up a wall.
Ideally, I want my books to pull people under, like a tide. I want the stetting to feel so real that you want to visit. To me, that’s part and parcel of bringing characters to life on the page. They need oxygen and earth or how else can they breathe? LOL
As for traveling elsewhere…funny you should ask! LOL My very NEXT book is gonna be set on a farm in East Texas. I grew up down there, so again it’s a setting I know very well, but the book is set in a different part of Texas than I lived. Still, that setting informs everything in the story, and I find that moving it outside of NYC has changed the rhythm of the romance.
When not writing or reading, what would we most likely find you doing?
Watching crappy movies most likely. I collect terrible films, which is where Cinema Craptastique came from originally. 🙂 After a long day in the word mines, there is nothing so joyful and satisfying as sitting back, just at the moment when you think, “I am the worst writer in the world…” with some craptacular misfire starring David Hasselhoff or Shannon Whirry only to discover that NO, there are more mind-boggling, insensible stories and prose that defies human sanity. In a matter of minutes watching badly dubbed softcore or a swashbuckler filmed in someone’s backyard, I don’t feel like drinking Drano or hurling myself into a woodchipper.
Any day is a good day to screen Showgirls, Glitter, Battlefield Earth, or Deathstalker 2 while gorging on salsa and diet root beer. My husband is patient with me on this point, although there are times where he has to cover his head and hide from the magisterial splendor of the oeuvres of Bo Derek or Steven Seagal.
And last, because we get greedy sometimes, what are you currently working on?
As I mentioned above, I’m currently finishing an erotic cowboy contemporary called Lickety Split set in East Texas which has been a blast to write: my first full-on erotic romance and I’m going for it with roleplaying and some odd kink. That’s gonna be a racy one. Then I have a bunch of the sequels underway…to Hot Head of course, Bad Idea, and Horn Gate (aka Scratch #2), and even Grown Men which will be rereleased shortly with additional HardCell adventures.
As always, thank you so much for stopping by Under the Covers and letting us pick your brain a bit. We hope everyone enjoys PENT UP!
Thank you for letting me drop by! Y’all are fantastic and it’s always a genuine pleasure.
Released: November 20th 2015
Published by Dreamspinner Press
PENT UP: Mix business with pleasure and take cover.
Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.
Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold-running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?
What’s a bullet catcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford, and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart.
This excerpt from Chapter 5 of Pent Up comes after a museum fundraiser where Ruben Oso’s worked as a bodyguard for financier Andy Bauer. Ruben has been sober almost a year, and now he’s squiring his drunk boss back to the Park Avenue penthouse.
Ruben laced his fingers together in his lap, conscious of Andy’s splayed legs bumping against his as the car curved through the dark trees.
How could it only have been a week? Joking and bickering like this, smiling and snapping at each other, they sounded like… something else.
I like this guy way too much.
Central Park watched them through the tinted glass.
“Suit looks great, Señor Oso.” Andy coughed. “Me parece increíblemente guapo.”
Whatever that meant, it sounded positive. Ruben blinked and turned, drunk on the attention. Greedy for it. “Yeah, okay. I don’t habla español.”
Andy checked out Ruben’s shoulder, the legs, the glossy loosened tie. “Means handsome.” It came out a whisper and Andy looked away out the windows.
Uh. “Thanks.” His heart thumped blindly in his chest. Any second it would stumble and knock something breakable over and smash it to pieces. “You got good taste, Bauer.” Too fast, too fast.
Andy closed his eyes. The rhythm of the car rocked his skull against the leather upholstery. “You ought to learn, one of these days.”
“Spanish. Might come in handsome.” He snorted in slow motion and looked back. “Handy. That is.”
“Sure. Right after I finish medical school and my MBA, before I start my talk show on the space station.”
Andy smiled and sighed, square jaw clamped. “It’s not that hard. Beautiful language besides. Claro.”
Clearly. He’s teaching me.
The town car veered to the left and Ruben had to grip the door to keep from being shifted against his boss’s strong legs. They passed under some kind of bridge and then slowed to a stop. They inched along in the Park’s crosstown traffic.
He could imagine himself on Andy’s terrace staring down at Central Park. He looked out the window at the passing trees: nature boxed in so a few penthouses had something to look at.
Andy rolled his head to watch Ruben watching him.
Buddies. Yeah, right.
Andy pushed himself back, shifting his weight. His hand scraped Ruben’s and… remained on the seat, separated by a millimeter or two. The light hair on his wrist brush-brushed the wisps on Ruben’s, rocked by the car’s motion.
Ruben swallowed. He wanted to slide the hand away from the delicious feathery scrape, and at the same time wondered how long Andy would leave it there. He wondered what would happen if he closed his dark square paw over Andy’s, laced their fingers and squeezed. He could imagine the way their knuckles would intersect and the exact pressure of Andy’s smooth palm against his. That skin.
Occasionally the car jostled them as it navigated potholes and pedestrians, gently rocking their shoulders, but their two hands stayed nailed to the firm, soft leather, barely touching, but touching nonetheless. That warm strip of Andy’s hand made it hard to breathe.
Why didn’t Andy move his arm back? Then again, why wouldn’t he? As the car glided under the black trees, Ruben’s whole being, all his attention, tightened around the half-inch of faint contact between their skin. Ruben imagined he could feel Andy’s pulse, then realized he was hearing his own as it jarred his skull.
If the brushing contact wasn’t an accident, removing his hand first would send a clear message. Easier to leave it there in case.
In case of what?
In case he was a queer? In case his boss was another? In case they needed to go out together to spend another fifty thousand American dollars to buy nothing in particular in a room full of strangers? The money and the man had gotten all jumbled in his head.
Maybe that was it. Ruben had gotten sucked in by all the sloppy luxury and forgotten whose it was. He wasn’t gay, just broke, sober, and lonely. Even if Andy was some kind of closeted homo, he had no interest in playing house with some middle-aged macho he’d known for a few days and rescued from a couch. Ruben had clocked the predator in him. If Andy wanted a dude, he’d lease some Calvin Klein model with a trust fund and a degree in corporate espionage.
And still, and still…. The butterfly stroke of Andy’s wrist hairs dried his mouth and pricked his eyes, and Andy had no clue. I want him.
All too suddenly, the car sliced out of the trees across Fifth, headed east.
I’ll quit in the morning.
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