Juliana, I enjoyed The Bad Boys of Crystal Lake. Your series features three men who have been friends since they were kids and who have all come back to Crystal Lake, the small town in which they grew up. Where did you get the idea for a series set in a small town in northern Michigan? You’re Canadian, right?
Yes, I’m Canadian! WOOT! But I do have a Michigan connection which is one of the reasons I chose to have my series set in a Michigan town. I’m only a few hours from this northern state of yours and one of my oldest friends moved there several years ago. They lived near Waterford, MI (and for those who’ve read my Barker Triplets series, yes, this was also the inspiration for the town of New Waterford) and the place was filled with trees and rivers and lakes. It’s a lot like northern Ontario and I felt I could write about the area in a good way—in a way that said I’d been there and I feel that’s so important. Because (and especially with these small town books) the setting is a secondary character that should be as rich as it can be.
There’s lots of sorrow in the Bad Boy books. One theme that comes up several times is the tragedy of spousal and child abuse. What calls to you about domestic abuse?
At first glance I wasn’t sure what it was. I took a moment and looked over my work and realized that yes, a lot of my books deal with the issue of abuse. My first book, a paranormal, His Darkest Hunger, has a heroine who’s been beaten badly with no memory. So, for sure there is a theme here. I think for me, books and movies that draw me in are ones that run the gamut—I want to laugh and I want to cry. So I write books that (hopefully) bring out these emotions in the reader. And I think that when it comes to abuse, I love the idea of a person who either seems to be broken, or is broken, but they find the strength in themselves to break free. I like that journey. Now, I write romance so usually there is a love interest that is a motivator or that person who’s got your back. But it’s the emotional journey that I’m drawn to and it comes out in my writing.
I myself have never experienced those kinds of abuses and I don’t know anyone personally who has. But I tend to gravitate to books and movies that deal with pretty heavy subject matter and it’s always satisfying when the monster is slayed.
Another aspect of your work is the impact the death of a loved one can cause. The first book begins with its hero, Cain Black, coming home for the funeral of a man who had been one of his best friends, Jesse Edwards. Jesse, a soldier, was killed in Afghanistan. His loss devastates his parents, his twin brother Jake, Jake’s young widow Raine, and their friend Mackenzie Draper too. You explore the many ways Jesse’s death has shaped those who loved him, some in ways surprising to the reader. What sort of research did you do about this kind of tragedy? You write movingly about the pain caused by survivor’s guilt. Was this something you researched? If so, how?
I think the one thing that makes a good storyteller is the ability to convey emotion through words. The ability to imagine what those emotions are. I’ve experienced loss, I’ve experienced the loss of someone young and as an author I think you draw from the emotion you experience, the pain of loss etc…but I don’t think we’re even aware. It’s kind of organic. It comes out in our storytelling.
There is a scene in Cain’s book, where Maggie is sharing the pain of losing her mother to cancer. And she sings a few lines from Free Bird. That is something I experienced myself, losing someone and we had a song that was special. Those kinds of things come out in my work and I just let them.
One of the things I love about the series is the way the people in your book create not just families by blood but families by heart. I feel like that’s easier to do a small town. In a big city it’s much harder to have that kind of day to day intimacy. Do you think that’s true? Could you have written these books set if they were set in a larger urban environment?
How awesome that you picked up on that. For me, as a person who loves family above all else—I’m not that choosey! Mostly because I feel the thing that defines family is not blood. It’s the emotional and personal connection you feel for a person. In my everyday life I’m blessed to have amazing parents, siblings etc, but as woman, I am also blessed to have the best girlfriends in the world. And these women are family to me. When Christmas or Easter or whatever rolls around, it’s not just blood family sitting at my table with me, it’s also the people I spend a lot of my time with. That’s special.
As far as having those kinds of connections in a large urban area, I think that yes, it most definitely can happen. To me, it’s all in the genetics. Are you a person who needs to be surrounded by friends and family? If not, than it might be easier to disappear in a large city and do your own thing. But if you are (and I am) I think you gravitate toward what you need. When I lived in a large city several years ago, I had those types of friendship as well. For me, personally, the thing that changed—and this had nothing to do with location—was the whole parent thing. Once you bring your own kids into the world, you’ll meet a whole new group of people. And your expectations of friendship might change, but the sense of community and love is something you build for yourself no matter where you are. At least IMHO.
Another thing that runs through the books is that forgiveness is a key part of surviving loss or pain. Raine has to forgive her mother for what Raine sees as her mother’s abandonment of her as a child. Jake has to forgive himself for not being able to prevent Jessie’s death. In your books, not everyone finds the ability to forgive. Several characters find peace by simply accepting the past while not forgiving those who so wronged them. I’m curious; do you see Cain ever forgiving his ex-wife and former band mate? Does McKenzie ever forgive his mother for allowing his father to beat not only her but also he and his siblings when they were young?
Forgiveness is hard. But to get through life, (and to get through happily) I think that you need to learn to forgive. For some people it will come easily, and for others it’s something they struggle with. But it’s such an integral part of life and ultimately love.
In book one Cain stays in Crystal Lake after Jesse’s funeral because the familiarity of home helps to heal his soul. Sure, he meets Maggie and wants her, but it’s that comfort of home, the connection to friends and family that helps him lick his wounds. Do I think he’ll forgive his ex-wife and former band member for their betrayal? I’m not sure. I think one has to earn forgiveness and they’re not there yet. BUT, I also think that Cain’s moved on and the act of moving on speaks volumes. I just don’t think he cared all that much anymore.
As for Mackenzie. His situation is more complicated because as much as he hates his father, he loves his mother despite her faults. He doesn’t understand how she can choose a monster over her children. How she can love a man who abuses not only her but their children, but she’s his mother. Mackenzie is frustrated at her weakness but I think he comes to realize that you can’t change people unless they want you to. I think he feels more betrayed that she didn’t protect her children. In his heart he might have forgiven her, but in his mind he’s still not there because he doesn’t understand it.
Your books are filled with lots of angst. You balance that with humor and joy. The men and women in your book heal themselves by caring for and trusting others and, in the cases of your lovers, having great sex. And by great sex I mean the kind that makes you feel alive, that makes connection with another a thing of great joy. Do you find writing sex scenes easy? Is it harder the closer your characters are emotionally? And how do you handle writing a sex scene for someone who’s been physically abused? Does that require a different sort of approach?
I think a lot of authors feel that writing sex scenes are hard. Or rather, keeping them fresh and not mechanical. A good sex scene isn’t in the book for the purpose of sex. (Although I’m sure we’ve all read a book where suddenly they’re doing it in the ditch or something and we’re like…wtf?) To me a good sex scene is there because my characters are connecting on that most basic level, but they’re reached this point because of their emotional journey.
In an instance where there is abuse, I think it’s beautiful when a partner is aware and because of it, is tender and giving and safe. That is sexy. That makes me as a reader, connect. So, I do think the approach is different. In my Barker Triplets series, I have one character who’s had some major trauma and it shaped the way she acted, saw the world etc. For her to finally get her HEA with the right man was a beautiful thing.
One of your heroes, Cain Black, is a world famous rocker. Your characters hang out at the town’s club and have a great time listening to local bands. Tell me about the role music plays in your life. Have you ever been in a band? What’s your favorite genre? If you could marry a rock star who would it be?
Music has always been an important component of my life. From the time I was a little girl and our house was filled with Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. When I was 18 I took off for two years, fronting an all girl rock band and that’s how I met my husband, a guitar player from Montreal. Our kids are following in our footsteps, both are musically inclined. My son’s band was featured on Canada’s Got Talent a few years ago and he’s writing, making videos and playing most weekends. So, yeah, it’s front and center and was one of the reasons I was determined to write about a musician.
As for music I love all kinds. In the past year I’ve seen The Dixie Chicks, Goo Goo dolls, Pat Benatar, Matchbox Twenty and Journey. I won’t tell you about my Jon bon Jovi fascination when I was younger, or the fact that I stood beside him in a club in Toronto and nearly caused a riot when I realized who he was!
I have to tell you I was startled the Edwards family has a tradition of naming their Thanksgiving turkey. Where did you get the idea for that? Is that something you’ve done? And if so, do you have any kids because I think that would freak mine out!
LOL, that’s funny! As with all of my books there is a lot of ME in them! And yes, naming the turkey is something I started years ago when the kids were small and it’s something we still do! Doesn’t freak my kids out though they might think it’s weird.
The town of Crystal Lake is extremely democratic. Even those with a great deal of power and money, like Maggie’s ex-husband, are in Crystal Lake are required to live by the same laws as everyone else. In your books, there is a whiff of indignation at the wealthy residents of Crystal Lake who are unsympathetic to those who have far less than they do. Many contemporaries today feature billionaires and super-powerful men who answer only to themselves. Could you see yourself writing a zillionaire hero?
Oh No! Contemporary romances to me should have that fantasy element—the hot hero we all love to dream about—but I need to relate to these people. While I have many friends who enjoy that particular trope, it’s not something I gravitate to. I must be the only person on the planet who’s not read Fifty Shades or whatever. They say write what you know, and I that’s what I stick to, at least in my contemporary books.
Are you done with the town of Crystal Lake? There are several storylines I’m wondering where they’re going to go. (I want the mayor to find true love!)
I’ll have to let the mayor know! The character of Blair Hubber came about because we had a fundraiser in our town for the senior support center and the real life Hubber bid on the chance to be a character in one of my books! Originally, the series was pitched as a trilogy, but I do have a few ideas percolating and you never know!
What’s up next for you? If there are no more Crystal Lake books, what books are there?
LOTS! I’ve got Tucker releasing in February, which is book one in The Family Simon series (a self published series that’s a spin off from my Barker Triplets) And this year I’ve got a debut young adult novel, Boys Like You, releasing in May, a month after Mac’s book, The Day He Kissed Her. So the spring is going to be busy! At the moment I’m writing the next young adult novel and then will write the next Family Simon book!
Thanks for talking with me.
Readers, the third book in The Bad Boys of Crystal Lake series, The Day I Kissed Her comes out in April.