We enjoyed Anne Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose. (Our B+ review is here.) We always like talking with Anne. Caz had a few questions which Anne was happy to answer.

Caz: I believe Turn Me Loose wraps up the storyline that was begun in Under the Surface – is it the final book in the Alpha Ops series, or will there be more?

Anne: This is the final book in the Alpha Ops series. I wrote Under the Surface first, added the SEAL stories when I sold the series to St Martin’s, then wrote Going Deep and Turn Me Loose. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed fleshing out the world, and creating a group of characters woven together by ties of blood, service, shared history, and ultimately, love.

Caz: I absolutely LOVED all the foodie details about Riva’s restaurant and the dishes she and her team created.  I confess that I’ve never heard of the farm-to-table movement (perhaps its a US thing?) but I can certainly see its appeal.  Where did the idea to involve Riva in the movement come from?

Anne: I live in Omaha, Nebraska, which is, according to the New York Times, a hub of the farm-to-table movement, probably because the farms are so close to the city’s restaurants. Chefs here have worked to incorporate ingredients from local family owned organic farms. I don’t remember exactly where the combination of farm-to-table and after school programming came from, but if memory serves, it was a combination of articles in the Omaha World Herald, the New York Times, and a Google search that led me to a program (maybe in Georgia? Somewhere down south, I believe) that does exactly what Riva’s doing in the opening chapter – teaching kids how to cook and run a restaurant. I’m not especially creative, but I am good at pilfering ideas from what I read.

Restaurants are forgiving places; in my own experience, they hire people with troubled pasts, or not much in the way of work history. Outdoors work – farm hands, working with animals – is much the same way. I’d wanted to write a story about a cop involved with a former CI/suspect for a long time, and I wanted a believable, down-to-earth (no pun intended) for Riva to have turned her life around and found herself in the process.

Caz: I was impressed with the treatment of Ian’s illness in the story; I don’t have direct experience (lucky for me), but his anger and frustration after the diagnosis felt very realistic, as does his continuing desire to be seen as a person rather than a miracle.  But what decided you to write a character who had survived cancer as a kick-ass, romantic hero?

Anne: I gave Ian a cancer diagnosis, because I needed a really good reason for him not to be a Navy SEAL, and I like lots of dark or traumatic backstory to fuel conflict. His brother, Jamie from The SEAL’s Second Chance, was a SEAL, but I wrote Under the Surface, where Ian first appears as a cop, before I developed Jamie as a SEAL. So why is Ian, who is even more driven and single-minded and ultra-competitive than his brother, not a SEAL, too?

I searched for reasons a candidate could be disqualified (other than not making it through the hell of BUD/s) and learned that a major illness like cancer disqualifies you for 5 years. I’m very fortunate to know Sassy Outwater, a cancer fighter/survivor, so I ran the scenario by her. Sassy told me that those rules also change, so sometimes it’s 5 years, sometimes it’s longer. You can’t be older than 27 when you enter BUD/s so the uncertainty meant the SEALs were no longer a viable option for Ian. Presto – a cancer survivor. One of my good friends is a service academy graduate; she explained the process of being “boarded”, i.e.: graduating with your degree but no commission, a devastating outcome for anyone with hopes and dreams of serving our country.

Sassy also told me that dangerous and potentially self-destructive behavior is pretty common in teens and young adults diagnosed with cancer. Once I knew these things, Ian’s attitudes, behavior, and coldness to Riva was easy to write. He was angry, hurt, betrayed, and full of rage and despair as he tried to carve out a meaningful life from circumstances beyond his control. In fact, he doesn’t really deal with any of those emotions under he meets Riva again, providing his emotional arc in the book.

Caz: Vending machine businesses as fronts for the mob… again, something I’ve never come across (!)  How did YOU come across it?  Was it one of those facts that just screamed to be put into a book?

Anne: LOL! My husband’s family ran a candy and vending machine business for decades. When I first brought him east to meet my dad and stepmother, I mentioned this fact and their eyes widened. The Sopranos’ waste management business apparently isn’t the only front for the mob. ;) Which makes sense – until machines took credit cards, it was a cash-only business without fixed prices, making it easy to launder money. Which, for the record, my in-laws NEVER did. Their warehouse, the description of running routes, the hustle to gain and keep clients, being driven out of business by Aramark or Sodexo, that’s all from their history.

Caz: Your books often have protagonists that come from incredibly differing backgrounds. Is there a pairing you’d never write? If so, what and why?

Anne: I honestly don’t know. I like vastly different backgrounds because it adds to the conflict, which helps with pacing, dialogue, tension, and the slow burn. I’m also super curious about careers and lifestyles unfamiliar to me, so I’m partly indulging my love of research.

Caz: Are there other subgenres/genres you’d like to explore as a writer? It seems as though many of romance’s best writers are writing non-romances–be they women’s fiction, mystery, suspense–in addition to penning stories with an HEA. Does that call to you at all?

Anne: I’ve absolutely thought about writing in other genres!

Thanks again for hosting me! Always a pleasure!

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Queer romance, romantic suspense and historicals - romance, mysteries, fiction -  are my genres of choice these days, and when I haven't got my nose in a book, I’ve got my ears in one.  I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am rarely to be found without my earbuds in.