Today I am so pleased to welcome K.C. Wells to Joyfully Jay. K.C. has come to talk to us about her upcoming release, Truth & Betrayal. She has also brought along an exclusive excerpt to share. Please join me in giving K.C. a big welcome!
So… what is all this ‘research’ authors do?
I’ve read a couple of disparaging remarks in recent days, about authors who don’t do their research. Of course, the writer of those remarks was referring to authors in this genre, and they were talking specifically about sex scenes.
Okay, let’s get this straight right now. I am not going to be talking about sex. Sorry. Yes, I do research those scenes, and then every scene is read by at least three gay men. Trust me, if wrote something they didn’t like, I’d soon know about it.
But it occurred to me that maybe readers would like an insight into just how much research I do, and what exactly I have to check before a book gets published. Because the list is enormous…
I’m going to take as my point of reference, my WIP. It’s entitled Truth & Betrayal, and it’s set mainly in Tennessee and North Carolina. We’re talkin’ South, y’all.
Before I even began writing it, I needed a place to set it. Now, as you’ll see from the cover, one of my main characters is a PoC, and that was going to be a vital part of the story.
There are some amazing sites out there. For instance, I found a site that goes through each town or city in any given US state, giving information on number of inhabitants, percentage of Caucasian / AA / European inhabitants there, percentage of people who attended middle school / high school / college / postgrad, etc. It tells you the kind of jobs / careers available there… You name it, there were statistics.
So I set out to find my town. I wanted a place that was predominantly Caucasian. A place where if my MC turned up unexpectedly, he’d cause a rumpus. And I found it. A small town that was 98.7% white. Perfect.
Next task. I sent out a request on Facebook for any friends who were well acquainted with Tennessee. We talkin’ dialect, sugah. Because everything I was about to write would have to be checked. I’m really lucky. I have an excellent team of betas from all over the place. If I’m writing about the US, the UK, Canada, wherever, they spot when my choice of vocabulary or speech patterns don’t quite fit. But I wanted to get the dialogue right.
I ended up with three Tennessee betas, one of whom lives in a small town exactly like the one I’d chosen. Even better, she knows the town. Again, perfect.
The next bit was fun. Southern sayings. Oh my. There are numerous pages out there, full of things said by those from the South, and I was determined to get some of them into the book. Of course, you’re walking a fine line between making it accurate, and going over the top. God bless my TN betas.
You want to see some, right? Sure.
Y’all know about ‘Bless your heart’, right? There are a number of definitions for this one, but the number one is… ‘A phrase used by Southern women to excuse themselves for speaking ill of someone else. i.e. “She’s as ugly as a mud-fence, bless her heart.”’
I actually used ‘What in the Sam Hill is going on?’ in the book. They loved it.
‘Happier than a dead pig in the sunshine’, ‘Like white on rice’, ‘Wound tighter than a clock’…I could go on. And on. And on…
Then there’s food. Yup. We got fried catfish, slaw and hush puppies on the first page.
Character’s homes. It helps to write about where someone lives if you can visualize it, so the first thing I do is go onto real estate sites and find me a house. I look at it on Google maps, to get a better idea. Then there’s the places people go, like restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores. They all have to be looked up too. Why? Because there is always one reader who says, ‘Wait a minute! I’ve been there and it’s not like that.’
One of the main incidents early on in the book is a funeral. I’m not about to put flowers on a coffin or by a graveside if they don’t grow there, so you’d better believe I’m looking up florists in that town, and seeing what arrangements they do for funerals.
There’s a little gang of friends that my MC Jake hangs out with. Thing is, where do they hang out? That’s where my TN betas came in, and we found the perfect spot. Then there’s a day trip to Knoxville on the Fourth of July, and there was I, looking up sex shops in the neighbourhood.
Trips. Oh Lord. Every time I have a character make a trip, I’m checking the distance and time on Google maps. And even then it can be wrong, if you don’t allow for traffic or time of day.
One of the main secondary characters is a cop. So when he’s talking on the radio to Dispatch, yeah, you can bet I’m checking with a beta whose relative is a TN cop, to make sure I’ve got the wording correct.
But the main thing about this book is the dialogue. There was a comment on a later chapter that said I’d used a particular word, and it pulled her out of the story. Because up until that point, she was definitely in the South. I know there are going to be people who read it and say ‘People in the South don’t talk like that’. *cough* I have it on very good authority that they do, but you’re welcome to your opinion, sugah. Bless your heart.
And that leaves me finally to a vital part of the research – my MC Liam – the one on the left. A good FB friend recently posted some advice to authors about the need to examine how they viewed other races / ethnicities, and to utilize cultural sensitivity readers when writing about other races / ethnicities. She’d read a physical description in a book that was really hurtful.
Yeah, I wasn’t about to make any mistakes in that area. I found a page entitled Writing with Color – Describing PoC and Avoiding Caricatures. Just what I was looking for. When I wrote my first description of Liam, I sent it to two friends – the writer of that post, and my dear friend Monique Thompson in NYC. I love Momo. She tells it like it is. Anyhoo, they were both happy with what I’d written. A little while later, I had to describe a naked Liam – well, mainly his dick LOL – and yeah, Momo got that one. Because mistakes have been made in that area too. I’m also lucky in that one of my permanent betas would soon let me know if I put a foot wrong there.
Phew. A lot goes into a book that you might not realize. So the next time an author in this genre talks about research, stop smirking, get your head out of the gutter, and realize they are not just talking about sex scenes. And to finish, I’m going to leave you with the cover and blurb for Truth & Betrayal, plus an exclusive extract from it. I’m hoping to release it next month, so watch out for news on FB and in my newsletter. You can subscribe to that here:
“What time is it?” Dan asked, peering up at the night sky.
Jake was past caring. They’d finished the vodka, plus two six-packs that Dan had brought with him, and the rest of Pete’s stash. He was at the stage where he moved his head an inch, and the world moved six feet. A weird sensation, but Jake would rather have that than the way he’d felt on arriving.
Pete giggled. “You know what I’d kill for right now? My mama’s corn bread, drippin’ in butter.”
Jake cackled. “Christ, you say that every time you get high.” He poked Mike’s arm. “You got any chips? You know what he’s like when he gets the munchies.”
Mike snorted. “He ate the last bag half an hour ago.”
“Jake?” Dan stared at him across the dying flames of the bonfire. “If I ask you somethin’, will you promise not to bite my head off?”
Jake shrugged. “Depends. Try me.”
“Was there a reason Cal didn’t wanna come home so often? I mean, once he left for college, he was never here.” Dan’s brows knitted together. “I’m askin’ cos you never talk about him. Fuck, the two of you were like… like….” His frown deepened.
“Like brothers, you drunken asshole?” Pete suggested. “An’ why’re you talkin’ about Caleb now? Are you such a fucking moron? They’re buryin’ him tomorrow, for Christ’s sake. Jake don’t wanna talk about ’im.”
“He changed, alright?” Jake blurted out.
His friends fell silent, and the only sound to be heard was the crackling of the fire.
Jake took a second or two to breathe deeply. “He didn’t talk so much anymore. I noticed it the first few times he came home. Before, we’d jaw for hours about pretty much anything, but once he’d left…” Caleb had been less inclined to get into conversation. Whenever Jake had tried to talk to him, it seemed Caleb always found something for them to do. And it had gotten worse after Caleb’s graduation, when he’d announced he’d got a job in Atlanta. Jake had wanted to talk to him so fucking badly on those rare occasions when he visited, but each time he got the feeling Caleb was avoiding him, and that had fucking stung.
He didn’t want to think about Caleb, let alone talk about him.
Jake staggered to his feet, fumbling in his pocket for his keys. “Y’know what? I’m goin’ home.”
Pete blinked. “You wanna call someone to take you home? Someone sober?”
Jake shook his head and instantly regretted the action when the back yard swam before his eyes. “I’ll be careful.”
Mike got to his feet too. “Jus’ stick to the speed limit. You don’t want the cops callin’ on your folks just now.”
And that right there was a sobering thought.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured them. “I’m only ten minutes away, right?” To his surprise, Mike gave him a firm hug.
“We’ll be there tomorrow, alright?” His voice softened. “We’re here for ya, Jake.”
Jake’s throat tightened. “Thanks,” he managed to croak out. Before the others could say something else to bring on the tears that threatened, he lurched across the yard to the gate that led to the front of the house. Once in the truck, he backed out of the driveway and onto the quiet, deserted street.
Jake tried to concentrate on the darkened roads, but his mind kept going back to Dan’s question. Was there some reason for Caleb’s continued absence? There hadn’t been any falling out between him and their parents, at least none that Jake knew of. Lord knew, Jake had asked himself a hundred times if there’d been anything he’d done to upset his brother, but he’d drawn a blank.
Whatever Caleb’s reasons were, he’d never know. They’d died with him.
It took a second or two for him to register that the flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror were for him.
Jake pulled into the curb on the empty street, and waited as the police car pulled in behind him. Daddy is gonna kill me this time. A car door opened and closed, then came the sound of boot heels on tarmac, slow and steady. Jake wound down the window with a sigh. “Evenin’, officer.” He kept his breathing slow and even, determined to bluff his way out of this mess if he possibly could.
A flashlight momentarily blinded him. “License, identification, an’ proof of insurance please.” The voice was young and vaguely familiar.
Jake reached up to the sun visor where he kept them, and handed them over. “I wasn’t speedin’, was I?” He was positive he’d kept below thirty. Of course, in his present state, he’d couldn’t be sure of anything. He could’ve driven over a deer and he’d never have noticed.
“You were drivin’ a little erratically.” There was a pause. “Jacob?” The flashlight lowered, and the officer leaned on the sill.
Jake stared at him, and suddenly it came to him. “Officer… Cox?” Of all the cops to pull him over, why did it have to be one of the two that had been to the house?
The officer nodded. “Get out of the truck, please.” He opened the door for Jake, who got out, carefully. Officer Cox regarded him steadily. “Have you been drinkin’?”
Jake bit his lip. “I had a couple o’ beers.”
Officer Cox arched his eyebrows. “A couple?”
Yeah, he didn’t believe a fucking word of it.
Jake’s heart pounded. “Look, if you’re gonna take me in, please, don’t let my mama an’ daddy know ’bout this, alright? They’ve got enough on their plate right now.”
Officer Cox tilted his head to one side. “The funeral’s tomorrow, isn’t it?” he said softly.
What the fuck? Jake swallowed hard. “Yeah.”
Cox nodded. “Yeah. If I was in your shoes, I’d want to tie one on as well.” He paused. “I was a couple of years behind Caleb in high school. I remember him.” He sighed. “I couldn’t say anythin’ that day we came by the house, but…” Cox switched off his flashlight. “Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. Lock up the truck, an’ I’ll take you home. You can come back for it tomorrow. It’ll be safe enough here.”
Panic bubbled up inside him. “But—”
Cox held up his hand. “Relax. I’m not takin’ you to your door. I’m just makin’ sure you reach it. I won’t be comin’ inside.” He gave Jake a firm stare. “But if I catch you drivin’ in this state again, I won’t be so lenient. An’ don’t let your folks see you like this. Because yeah, they don’t need this.”
“Thank you.” Jake wanted to say something else, words that conveyed the depth of his gratitude, but to his horror, what came out were hot tears that spilled over his cheeks.
“Hey.” Cox’s voice was gentle. “It’s okay, Jacob. I can only imagine what you’re goin’ through right now. But you gotta be strong tomorrow, for your parents’ sake.”
Jake wiped his eyes savagely on the sleeve of his jacket. Crying like some goddamn snot-nosed little kid. “Yeah.” He hiccupped. “It’s Jake. Only my folks call me Jacob. An’ thanks again.”
Cox patted his arm. “Like I said. I get it.” He hesitated. “Look, I know you don’t know me from Adam, but… drinkin’ makes things a little easier, I won’t deny that. I wouldn’t have gotten through some truly awful times without a couple of stiff drinks. But… don’t let it become a crutch, is all I’m sayin’. An’ that’s without even mentionin’ the fact that you’re underage. I promise, it does get easier.” He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a notepad and pen, then scribbled on a page. Cox tore it out and handed it to Jake. “Here’s my cell. If you ever need someone to talk to, just to let it all out, please, call me, okay? I can’t promise to make it better, but I’m a damn good listener.” He put the notepad and pen back in his pocket.
Jake swallowed, fighting back the tears that had become so commonplace during the last three weeks.
Cox nodded, his eyes full of compassion. “I know. You don’t have to say anything, alright? It’s just in case you need a friend. Now let’s get you home—Jake.” He patted him on the back.
Jake followed him to the police car, and Cox gestured to the passenger seat. They drove in silence for a minute or two, and then Cox pulled up at the entrance to the driveway. Jake hesitated a moment before getting out, his heartbeat returning to normal.
Cox cleared his throat. “I’ll be there tomorrow, by the way. I asked if I could go.”
That was enough to have the tears pricking the corners of his eyes again. “Thank you.” Jake couldn’t stand it a second longer. He got out of the car and hurried along the drive, his feet stumbling over the gravel. He was dimly aware of the police car moving off, but he didn’t look back. The lights were out inside, the only illumination coming from the porch.
They left the light on for me. The thought warmed him. Using every ounce of stealth he possessed, Jake opened the door as quietly as possible, taking his time to close it with just as much care. He took off his sneakers and crept through the house, taking extra special care in the hallway where that one floorboard always squeaked. Mama was a light sleeper. When he reached his room without incident, Jake closed the door behind him and flopped down onto the bed on his front, burying his face in his pillow.
His last thought before falling into sleep was that the following day was going to be the worst one ever.
All the light went out of Jake’s life when his older brother Caleb died in a traffic accident. Getting through the aftermath was always going to be the hardest thing he’d ever done, but finding out that the tall stranger at the graveside was the one driving the car? At least Jake now has a target for all the rage inside him. Because the man responsible for stealing Caleb’s light from the world has no right to intrude on their grief.
Liam had known deep down that it was a mistake to go to Tennessee, but he’d hoped saying goodbye to Caleb would ease the pain inside him. The hostile reception from Caleb’s family and friends comes as no surprise, and Liam flees before things get ugly. They obviously know nothing of Caleb’s life in Atlanta, and maybe it’s better that way. Caleb’s secrets can die with him.
When Jake turns up at Caleb’s apartment to collect his brother’s possessions, what he discovers is the first shock in what is to be a series of revelations, turning Jake’s world upside down. New knowledge brings fresh pain and anguish.
Jake isn’t the only one who’s hurting…
K.C. Wells started writing in 2012, although the idea of writing a novel had been in her head since she was a child. But after reading that first gay romance in 2009, she was hooked.
She now writes full time, and the line of men in her head, clamouring to tell their story, is getting longer and longer. If the frequent visits by plot bunnies are anything to go by, that’s not about to change anytime soon.
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