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Books with Buzz: Black at Heart by Leslie Parrish Interview and Contest (Contest Now Closed)

51IKldoIGoL._SS500_Leslie Parrish is the alter ego of Leslie Kelly, a writer known for her light, humorous contemporaries. But you won’t be finding light fun with the new Black CATs trilogy by Parrish. Instead you’ll be getting dark, edgy, fantastic romantic suspense that readers and reviewers all over the web are buzzing about.

I almost didn’t start reading this series for a number of reasons. Chief among those was that I’d gone through a bout of bad and/or cheesy romantic suspense and I’d become quite cynical. But with the first book, Fade to Black, I couldn’t resist the idea of a heroine as a small town sheriff, so I took a chance—a chance that really paid off.

I loved the second book, Pitch Black, even more, and when I finished that one I was literally buzzing with excitement. Couldn’t-sleep-excited. Must-find-out-what-happens-excited. If Black at Heart had already been released, I would have driven immediately to the bookstore to buy it. At 10:00 at night. In my pajamas. I was (and still am) that excited.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until the September 1st release date of Black at Heart to get my hands on it. But thanks to the author’s generosity, two AAR readers won’t have to. In addition to taking the time to answer a few of my questions, Leslie has kindly offered up two ARCs of Black at Heart to two lucky readers. All you have to do to enter for your chance to win is to post in the comments section of this blog by 11:59 pm eastern time on Wednesday, August 12th. Regrettably, the contest is open to U.S. residents only. (Please note: This contest is designed to put ARCs in the hands of readers who might not otherwise have access to them. So, if you review or write for another blog or site, please do not enter the contest. Obviously, we can’t police the entries, so we ask you to use the honor system.)

I hope you enjoy the interview, and that you’re as excited as I am about this book. So, without further ado:

Leslie, your Black CATs trilogy has been getting good buzz this summer, and the books have been getting some great reviews – including a DIK of Pitch Black here at AAR. Black at Heart is the much-anticipated conclusion to the trilogy, and I for one am vibrating with excitement. Can you tell us a little about the plot? Also, do readers need to have read the previous two books before jumping into Black at Heart?

Black At Heart is Wyatt Blackstone’s story, and from the minute I wrote about him in Fade To Black, I was the one vibrating with excitement. He is exactly the type of hero I most love—brilliant, quiet, gentlemanly, urbane, self-controlled…but underneath, seething with secrets and undercurrents that were only hinted at in the first two books. Wyatt willingly gave up his brilliant future within the FBI to do the right thing, and has since been ostracized for it. But in Black At Heart, he finds himself torn between duty and his personal feelings for a woman he’s been protecting—hiding—for several months. Things come to a head when he begins investigating a series of brutal murders that point to an impossible suspect…the very same woman.

You definitely don’t have to have read either of the previous books to follow the plot in Black At Heart; however, it probably would be more enjoyable to have read at least Pitch Black since events that take place in that book are the catalyst for this one.

You’ve said that the previous book, Pitch Black, is the most traditional romantic suspense of the trilogy. Can you explain what you meant by that, and how Black at Heart differs from traditional RS?

To me, Pitch Black’s “woman in jeopardy” element placed it firmly into the traditional romantic-suspense category. Sam Dalton is a strong woman, but she’s drawn the eye of a sociopathic killer and all the Black CATs are working to keep her safe—especially hero Alec Lambert. Pitch Black also features a little more banter and flirtation between the hero and heroine. She’s snarky and sarcastic, he was once a bit of a playboy, and they just lent themselves to a bit of humor and sexy repartee here and there.

Finally, it’s the least violent or graphic of the three books. The killer’s crimes are incredibly cruel (I find the prologue in Pitch Black far more disturbing than the more bloody one in Fade To Black) but they’re more psychological. You don’t cover your eyes in horror when you read them, you wipe away the tears.

Black At Heart is very different from either Fade To Black or Pitch Black. The book has a smaller, more intimate feel—almost intentionally claustrophobic in parts, which reflects the heroine’s situation. Beyond that, the hero starts out wondering if the heroine—a woman he already respects, likes and cares about—has gone off the deep end and turned into a vigilante serial killer. She is also done being protected. She’s strong, tough, kick-ass and ready to resume her life that’s been interrupted while she recovered from a brutal attack.

I look at the hero and heroine of Black At Heart as two people who are simply incomplete until they come together. They finish one another, as odd as that may sound, heal each other in ways the h/H’s of the first two books didn’t. Those heroes and heroines were fine individually and even better together. But Wyatt and Lily, as individuals, are incomplete. Wounded and scarred, the both of them, only existing–neither living a fully-realized life. As a couple, however, they become so much more than just the total of their sum parts. He’s all she needs, and she’s all he needs, and they both know it.

I love their relationship.  Love how they found each other, love how they healed each other, love how they saved each other.

You’ve been writing contemporaries for years under your real name, Leslie Kelly, and you continue to publish with that name under the Harlequin Blaze imprint. What prompted you to start writing dark, edgy romantic suspense as Leslie Parrish?

I love writing light, sexy contemporaries, but as a reader, my tastes have always been firmly divided between romance and thrillers. After I was fortunate enough to sell to Harlequin, I focused only on the romances. (Actually, in the back of my mind, I wondered what it might be like to bump off a character here and there—which I did, albeit in a humorous way, in some of my single titles.)

I had written several single-title contemporary novels for HQN, but unfortunately, they just didn’t do well and I found myself out of a job right in the middle of a series. It was a blow, more of one than I’d imagined it would be, and I really came close to throwing in the towel. But because I’d had that long, deep-rooted love of suspense and thrillers, I decided I couldn’t let the dream of being a full-time writer go without giving myself one shot, this time combining the two genres I loved best.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I honestly don’t know if I’ll have a long-term, successful career in romantic suspense. But I do know I’ve written the best three books of my life.

How much of a challenge has it been for you to switch between writing light contemporaries and edgy suspense?

You know, it was easier to switch to dark suspense than it has been to switch back to light comedies! The Black CATs books flew out of me with the kind of creative joy I haven’t experienced in a very long time. Trying to refocus and get back to writing the Blazes I’m contracted to write, has been very tough. My mind just goes to darker places now, and writing humor, already a difficult thing to do, has become a lot more challenging.

Every day I wake up and think about which writer hat I’m putting on. I have to say, it is never dull.

What authors would you say have inspired you, and whose books are you enjoying now?

Stephen King has always been my favorite author; I don’t think he gets enough credit for the strong, brilliant female characters in his books. That’s what has always drawn me—not the chills and thrills, but the amazing women he creates.

I also love the authors producing intense romantic thrillers: Allison Brennan, Karen Rose, Lisa Jackson. JoAnn Ross writes great romantic-suspense-adventures. I’m also really enjoying straight thrillers by Chelsea Cain and Stieg Larsson.

What’s next for Leslie Kelly-Parrish? Can you give us any clues as to what you’re working on?

I have a fun fairy-tale Blaze novella coming out in November with my good friend Julie Leto. It’s my take on The Princess and the Pea, with a multiply-pierced, heavily-tattooed, waitress/princess heroine and a werewolf hero.

As for Leslie Parrish, while I had hoped to do another set of Black CATs books (just gotta write Brandon’s story!) my publisher really didn’t want to commit to that until we see how this first trilogy does.

Fortunately, though, they had enough confidence in me to contract me to write two books in another series altogether. eXtreme Investigations combines my love of romantic-thrillers with my geeky Supernatural fan-girl self. (Uh, did you notice: Hero book 1: Dean. Heroine book 2: Sam. Yes, I’m a total geek.)

The new series features a group of detectives solving murders with the use of their paranormal abilities. The owner of this detective agency has a silent partner, a really silent one—he’s dead and can’t be seen by anyone else. One is a psychic. One (the one who most interests me) can touch a body and experience—feel—everything that victim felt in the last 130 seconds of his or her life. Such a dark, deadly gift…who would ever want to use it? But how can she refuse when people’s lives are at stake? I really can’t wait to write that one!

Mainly though, what I’m doing these days, is holding my breath, crossing my fingers and hoping that the Black CATs books do well enough for me to get the chance to revisit all those characters I’ve come to know and love.

Oh, and to keep me employed this time. ;-)

Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Leslie gets to continue with those Black CATs because I’d love to read Brandon’s story. And the stories of any other characters she comes up with.

To enter for your chance to win one of two advance copies of Black at Heart, all you need to do is comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday, August 12. The caveats mentioned earlier apply.

Good luck to everyone and thanks to Leslie Kelly-Parrish for her time and the giveaway books.

–Katie Mack

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