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Shannon McKenna talks alpha males and uber villians

Fatal StrikeShannon McKenna’s latest release, Fatal Strike, is the tenth in her McCloud and Friends series.  The books feature seriously macho heroes, really awful bad guys, and scorching sex scenes. She has a devoted fan base–the ninth book in the series, One Wrong Move, is #143 on USA Today’s Bestseller List. Shannon graciously agreed to chat with me about her books, her ideas, and what’s up next for the manly McClouds.

I have a serious crush on Nick Ward from your book Extreme Danger. I think he’s my favorite uber-alpha male in modern day romance. You must hear this sort of thing from fans all the time. So tell me, do your fans share my Nick love or is is it some other McKenna hero who your readers most adore?

Nick’s a big favorite–second only to the classic uber-macho hero, Seth, from Behind Closed Doors, although Aaro seems to be a new favorite, and the charming, naughty Sean makes lots of ladies swoon. It seems that it’s my very baddest, most uncontrollable bad boys, the ones who need taming with a whip and a chair, that become the reader favorites. It plays into the dangerous but compelling romantic fantasy many of us indulge in, commonly known as “My Love Will Save Him.”  I’m guilty of entertaining that fantasy myself, though I know what a trap it can be. Sadly, in real life, love seldom does—but in a Shannon McKenna novel it always will! It goes both ways, though. The hero and heroine’s love for each other is what saves them both from the harrowing abyss.  Also, the bigger the challenge the hero poses to the heroine, the stronger she has to be to match him. The harder it is to bring that bad boy to his knees, helpless with love and longing, the bigger the payoff. And once she’s done it, oh man, what a resource she has at her service! The sex alone . . . well, never mind that. Like a nuclear reactor, but all for her, her, her.  Can you tell I like over-the-top excess? My heroes abound in it.

Your recent books feature villains obsessed with controlling the minds of others, usually through a drug they take that than enables them to manipulate their victims. The fictional science in these books is well thought out and deeply developed. Where did this come from? What about it calls to you as a writer?
It’s true, I have been playing around with this mind control trope for a while now. Maybe it’s because it’s a metaphor for the way I fear we are already being controlled, in subtle and not so subtle ways, by the media, by our addiction to our devices and our social media, etc. My fantasies about neuroscience allowing people ever deeper into each other’s heads, challenging the very basic premise of what it is to be a human being, are becoming more possible every day. A couple weeks ago, I found this article on my front page.

I was horrified. We as humans are just not ready to go where this research will inevitably take us (if it hasn’t already gone there, long ago!) No matter how many innocent applications this research might have, I am sure that the greedy and opportunistic among us are doing their oily Dr. Evil chuckle and rubbing their hands together. (I call myself a “lazy conspiracy theorist,” you see. I’m plenty paranoid, but don’t really have the time to do the research to be a proper conspiracy theorist, having book deadlines and small children to run around after. So I’m left with just the sense of creeping menace, but no hard facts to back it up. So what do I do? I make up crazy stories about my worst nightmares, and then create heroes and heroines to defeat them utterly and rescue us all. Works for me.

If the McCloud and Friends men all played a sport together, what would it be? If I had them all over to dinner, what would I be smart to serve?

Sports? Wow. I think they’d probably all do kung fu/judo/jujitsu/karate sparring before they’d ever do anything so frivolous as a sport, at least the McCloud boys themselves. (Bruno might shoot some hoops, having grown up on the streets of Newark, New Jersey!) Old Crazy Eamon McCloud, the McCloud guys’ father, would have considered sports an utter waste of time, when his boys could be training to fight for their lives with bare hands, firearms, knives, clubs, garottes, broken beer bottles or whatever else they could grab, and they should by God look their mortal enemy straight in the eye and not get distracted by a goddamn bouncing ball.

And as for food? There should probably be large quantities of flame-broiled meat, knowing these guys, but whatever else there is, there should be lots of it. All my characters love food as much as I do. In fact, most of my heroes can cook, because I personally find that incredibly sexy. Not Nick, though. He’s an exception, but Becca makes up for it, being a professional. So bring out the guac, the homemade salsa (lots of fresh cilantro and heavy on the hot peppers, please) and the freshly fried crisp tortilla chips, and maybe a case of frosty Mexican beer with lime . . . and take it from there!

The heroines in your books, though they stand up to their men, aren’t usually as bad-ass as the guys. The notable exception is Tam, the heroine of Ultimate Weapon. You write Tam as sympathetic but not very nice. She feels very different to me that your other female leads. What was the inspiration for Tam?
Ah, Tam. When I was in college, a guy I knew went to a Madonna concert in a club in New York, and he managed to fight his way all the way up to the big ring/net thing that held the teeming masses back from where Madonna was gyrating in her leather bustier. He called out, “Madonna! Do you feel like an animal in a cage?” And she yelled back, “I am an animal in a cage!”

That moment stuck with me, like a seed in my head. It started to sprout when I saw Angelina Jolie in the movie “Girl, Interrupted,” years ago, playing another very dangerous, damaged, but incredibly compelling and charismatic animal in a cage. I felt scared of both of these personae—but fascinated by them, and they fused in my mind, forming Tam, who looks like Angelina in my mind. Tam is the embodiment of everything I’m afraid to express. She is practically invulnerable, she does not give a damn what anyone thinks of her, she says and does whatever she wants, she obeys rules only when she chooses to. If there is a price to be paid for this, she has paid so much in her life already, she hardly notices.  I have written an entire book about her, and I’m STILL intimidated by her. But she’s one of my favorite characters. No book is complete without her.

In your latest book, Fatal Strike, your heroine and hero can have mind-meld sex even when far apart. This not only made me envious, it made me wonder about the future of sex for humanity. In Fatal Strike, Miles and Lara are able to mentally connect for reasons explained by a blend of science and technology. Though the scenario you paint is fantastical, there’s thread in it that seems inevitable. What do you think? Will we someday be able to experience what Miles and Lara do?

Yeah, how about that mind-meld sex? I love the idea of Miles and Lara becoming sexually intimate before they even physically meet, because it changes all the dynamics of human relationships completely. But I personally think that nothing will ever measure up to our real, visceral need for human contact, skin to skin. People play all kinds of weird games with each other, but Nature will always prevail in the end.

Your books combine crazy sex, massive violence, and lots of dry wit. I love reading about the McCloud gang, but I’m not sure I could hang with them. For starters, I’m afraid of danger. Who could hang with that crowd? Can you think of a real or fictional person that would fit right in at one of their familial celebrations? I’m thinking maybe Maverick from Top Gun or 007 (the Craig version).

Mmmm . . . the Vin Diesel character from XXX would do fine, and I agree, Daniel Craig’s 007 would have fun, too. (You will be amused to know that I mentally cast Daniel Craig as Davy in the Out of Control movie that exists only in my mind!) Liz Salander from “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” would fit in with this crowd—I think even Tam would respect her! Any character played by Wesley Snipe, too, and Michael, the main character from the show Prison Break, would have a lot to say to them. Ah, Michael. (swoon) I can’t think of any real, actual people off the top of my head, but I think they would be nice enough to us normal types. And the guacamole and beer would be great. Really, it would be fine. You can go to one of their parties without fear.

The evil in your books is truly evil. Your villains have been mass murderers, organ thieves, rapists, and egregious thugs. Your bad guys are irredeemable. Do you see yourself ever writing a sympathetic villain? If not, why not?

True, my baddies are really awful. My problem is, if I write a sympathetic villain, I end up bonding with him/her and wanting to save him/her! (like Tam, ahem.) That’s what happened in Behind Closed Doors. My very first villain, Victor Lazar, was the heroine Raine’s uncle/father, who knew which, and he intrigued me. He was very corrupt and dangerous, but still capable of love. He was too old to turn into a hero, but he died heroically taking a bullet for Raine, and I, for one, was very sorry. So was Raine. And so, incidentally, was Tam, his mistress, who was known as Mara in that book. Tam really liked Lazar, problematic though he was, and sincerely mourned him.

What’s next for you? Are there more heroes in McCloud-land?
Next for me is Sam and Sveti’s book, tentative title In for the Kill, pub date February 2015. And that will be the last of the McClouds. Eleven is enough for any series! After that, I still do not know—I’m not great at thinking of more than one project at a time. One thing’s for sure, though—The McClouds and Friends have taught me that I love series, so I will definitely be doing linked stories. And I will put my all into whatever I write, for my readers’ sakes!
Thanks so much for the fun and intriguing questions, Dabney, and to AAR for having me! It’s been a delight to visit.

Have a great autumn, and happy reading!

Dabney Grinnan
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