I am an Anne Calhoun fan. Uncommon Passion is one of my favorite romances and, even when I don’t think her books are that good, I almost always enjoy them. Her parsing of what men and women feel for and do to each other fascinates me. She has a new book out which I very much like–Under the Surface–and which we review today.
Ms. Calhoun gracefully agreed to answer some of my questions about her new book, a tightly written, anxiety producing romantic suspense story with a sexually assertive heroine and an appealing undercover hero.
Dabney: The urban context in this story is vividly realized. It’s Lancaster, PA–right?–but it could be any mid sized American industrial city. Why’d you pick Lancaster?
Anne: Heh. It’s actually not Lancaster, PA. I’m not sure how perception happened – the state is never named. The setting is the same as Liberating Lacey (the town in that book is unnamed, and yes, Hunter works on the same police force), and it’s a combination of elements from two small cities I’ve lived in: Des Moines, IA, and Omaha, NE. Lancaster is the name of a county in Nebraska. If Lancaster PA matches, great! It’s sheer coincidence, though.
Dabney: What sort of research did you do to learn about undercover work?
Anne: Books, newspaper articles, internet searches on drug trafficking, corruption, and money laundering.
Dabney: What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching this book?
Anne: I learned a fair bit about which businesses make great fronts for money laundering. The part about Matt stripping to his skin to prove he wasn’t a cop while working prostitution busts came directly from research and fit nicely into the dynamic I wanted between Matt and Eve.
Dabney: There are so many connections between your characters in this novel and this book is the first full length one in a new series for you, right? Will you continue to explore the lives of the characters in this book–Ian, Joanna, Caleb, and Natalie, for example?
Anne: Absolutely! The next book features Conn McCormick and pop star Maud Ward (aka Cady) — my first bodyguard book! The final book is Ian’s book, and features another off-limits relationship – a cop and a confidential informant. Caleb makes an appearance in all the books, as do Joanna, and Natalie.
Dabney: The sexual dynamics of this book are interesting. Eve is Chad/Matt’s employer and is determined to have sex with him. On the one hand, I loved how in control of her sexuality Eve is. On the other hand, I kept thinking that if the sexes of Eve and Chad?Matt were reversed, the way Eve behaves skirts close to sexual harassment. What are your thoughts there?
Anne: Eve’s clear that Matt getting the job (which, FWIW, isn’t really his “job”) depends on his work, not his willingness to have sex with her. If he wants her to stop, all he has to do is tell her. Instead, to build the conflict and sexual tension in the story, he says “let’s take it slow”, not “no” or “stop” or “you’re making me really uncomfortable, please don’t flirt with me anymore”. When I was writing the book, I was far more concerned with Matt’s behavior — a cop lying to an informant and very nearly having sex with her when she didn’t know his professional identity — than I was about how she treated him when she thought she was his employer. She’s provocative and honest — all cards are on the table. He’s reluctant, deceiving her, and walking a very, very fine line ethically; in my mind, only the “her life is in danger” trope makes this work.
Dabney: You’re celebrated for your sex scenes. A lot of authors say love scenes are their least favorite part of the story to write. Is that true for you?
Anne: I love writing them. My characters usually experience their deepest emotional transformations and revelations during the sex scenes, when they’re most vulnerable, physically and emotionally. They learn something, wanted or unwanted, during the sex scenes. I rarely see them as points where everything’s hunky-dory (well, maybe hunky), but rather as a moment in the character’s life when he/she thinks, “this probably isn’t a good decision but I’m going to do it anyway and see what happens.” It usually gets them deeper into trouble in some way that advances either the plot or the emotional arc — both if I’m doing my job well.
Also, totally adding “celebrated for sex scenes” to my tombstone file!
Dabney: The suspense in this book is off the charts. It’s a change for you, no? What made you want to write RS? What was the hardest thing to get right?
Anne: I’ve always loved RS as a reader, and wanted to give it a shot. I like the additional tension the suspense element adds, and I like how the characters learn about themselves and each other under stress. The hardest thing to get right was the balance of suspense, romance.
Dabney: What’s next?
Anne: The next Alpha Ops book comes out in November. It’s called Going Deep, and Officer Conn McCormick has to figure out who’s framed him for a crime he didn’t commit while protecting Lancaster’s girl-made-good, Cady Ward while she works on her next album. I’m finishing the manuscript for the third book in the series, which may or may not be called Reckless but will definitely be out next summer.
Dabney: Thanks, Anne!
Ms. Calhoun is giving away a prize pack of three print titles from her backlist. (US readers only.) Please make a comment below to be entered in this drawing.