My guest today is Dianne Hartsock, an author of paranormal, contemporary and fantasy romances published with Etopia Press, Breathless Press and Solstice Publishing. Her last title, the fantasy romance Nathaniel has achieved great critical acclaim. She is here today to answer my questions about her work in general and specifically about her latest novel, Eran’s Release.
Elin: Hello, Dianne, so kind of you to be here today.
Dianne: Thank you so much for having me, Elin. I’ve been following your ‘Comfy Chair’ interviews and I’m flattered you invited me. So many interesting authors and books! I’ve been adding to my TBR list.
Elin: There are some brilliant ones, aren’t there! My TBR is mile high. So on to the questions. Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
Dianne: I’m the floral designer for a locally owned gift and garden shop here in town. It’s the best shop! We have indoor/outdoor plants, specialty gifts, candles, music, books (they’re carrying ALEX), and a small tea/coffee bar. My flower shop is in the center of the store, which gives me the perfect opportunity to do the people watching I enjoy so much. And I love working with the flowers, creating a beautiful arrangement to brighten someone’s day. My favourite part of the job is when someone comes up to me with an idea for an arrangement they’d like to make. We pick flowers together and I arrange them to the design they have in mind. I like to see their smile when we’re done.
What else… I live in the gorgeous Willamette Valley of Oregon with my amazing husband. Our two children are now in college. (Where has the time gone!) And if I can only find a way to add two more hours to each day, life would be perfect.
Elin: I understand Eran is from a very abusive background, likewise your eponymous hero Alex, and Nathaniel too is in danger when Taden rescues him. Is there any particular reason why you find this scenario such fertile ground for growing your plots?
Dianne: You know, I’ve never given this question much though. I write the story and characters as they come to me. I suppose it’s because I find the human spirit fascinating. ‘Courage in the face of adversity’. I like to give my heroes personal trials to overcome as well as the challenges going on in the story line.
With Alex, I wanted to write a story about a person with psychic abilities. I wondered what might have happened in his childhood to bring out this rare characteristic. It’s not that I enjoyed making him suffer. Far from it! But I felt that his isolation and pain would make him turn inward, enhancing whatever mental capabilities he might have.
With Nathaniel, it’s more of a question of mental illness. His people have natural psychic abilities (see a trend here!), but sometimes this power will twist a person’s mind until they can no longer control it. As in most of my stories, Nathaniel needs friends in his life to keep him grounded to reality and give him purpose.
In Eran’s case, this is a contemporary story, and child abuse happens all too often in this world. This story actually started with Eran’s lover Paul in a flash fiction piece I’d written involving characters from my ‘Shelton’ series. Paul is having coffee withShelton, and Eran is the barista serving them. I loved the interaction between Paul and Eran so much I wanted to give them their own story. I didn’t find out about Eran’s abuse until about the same time the reader does. It’s simply a part of who Eran is and was revealed to me as I wrote the story.
Elin: In Nathaniel you have all the possibilities of a brand new world – its politics, military and social structures, interracial tensions – yet you concentrate on the relationship between Nathaniel and Taden. Why the emphasis on the romance rather than exploiting the potential of the high fantasy adventure?
Dianne: Can I tell you a secret? I actually have a full length novel written involving this world which is being considered by a publishing house. Instead of going nuts while waiting for them to get back to me (this process can sometimes take months), I decided to write a short story in the same world, only on a different continent. Nathaniel and his cousin Corin come from the main continent in the novel. Yet even in my novel, the story is character driven rather than dealing with the complexities of society. Don’t worry, the world is fleshed out, but the main focus is how the characters interact within the confines of their reality.
I made the story Nathaniel a romance because I absolutely love to climb into a character’s head, get intimate with them, feel what they’re feeling. I wanted to focus on Nathaniel’s personal relationship with Taden. Here’s a man with magical abilities, at least in Taden’s mind. And Taden is the responsible head of his family and the lord and caretaker over his lands. I wanted to show how these two unique men react and relate to each other. The world they live in came secondary to what I wanted to do here.
Elin: Absolutely grand news about the novel. Romance is lovely but romance with political intrigue, agricultural crisis and military chaos make my heart pitter pat. When researching a novel, how far do you go? What’s the weirdest or most difficult thing you’ve ever found or done during the course of your research?
Dianne: I don’t think I’ve ever done anything ‘weird’ while doing research. Hands down, ALEX is the most difficult book I’ve written. I had to research child abuse and mental illness and serial killers and police procedure. None of them happy topics. And knowing child abuse happens every minute of every day is heartbreaking. Then there’s psychic ability and mental health and suicide. I think I spent as much time researching this story as I did in actually writing it.
On the other hand, doing the research for my erotic romances is hilarious! I’ve had to research the toys men use, how they rate them, most and least favourites. The comments made on the products are some of the funniest I’ve ever read. Then there are personal accounts I read on blogs and groups. I ask my friends questions, by email, since I’d die of embarrassment to ask them to their faces. But I have so much fun.
I haven’t done much research for my fantasy stories, simply because I’ve read fantasy all my life. And my worlds aren’t so much fantasy, as worlds where the unexplainable can happen and the people call it magic because they don’t understand anything else.
Elin: Can you name any author/authors, past or present, who have been a great influence on your work? What are you reading right now?
Dianne: C. J. Cherryh. I’ve been reading her books for the past thirty years (or more) and have fallen in love with all of her heroes. I’ve only recently discovered her scifi stories (yea!) and have whole new worlds to explore through her. Her plots are intense, her characters believable and likable. I suppose you could say that my own plots of the tortured hero come from her. Most of her stories involve the reluctant hero, a person thrust into the position of leadership despite their best efforts to avoid it. They’re flawed and brave and find the courage to overcome obstacles where others might give up.
Cherryh has recently re-written her book called ‘Rusalka’, one of my all time favourites of hers. I’ve just begun to read it. So exciting to visit these old friends and see how things might have changed for them in the story! I’m also reading the last book in Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series. I also read short stories on the computer before I call it a night. They help me relax enough to sleep. It’s usually a romance by a favourite author.
Elin: We all love a good hero. Which of your characters would you snog marry or avoid? Or, if you don’t feel about them that way, which would you most like to push off a cliff, share a cab or have move in next door?
Dianne: Umm… let’s see.
Snog: If I can get Nathaniel away from Taden for a bit, I’d like to try a kiss or two. He’s so pretty and I bet his kisses would be sweet and tender.
Marry: Well, if any of my characters actually liked girls, I’d marry Taden. He’s good and brave and his home sounds lovely.
Avoid: I’d most definitely go out of my way to avoid Eran’s brother-in-law. Such an angry man.
Push off a cliff: There’s a certain detective in my novel ALEX that’s just a bastard. It would be so easy to give him that little nudge…
Share a cab: Nathaniel’s cousin Corin. He’s a bad boy, but I anticipate several hot minutes with him back there. *wink*
Next door: I’d love to have Alex and Jane move in next door. That way I can keep an eye on Alex and make sure he’s doing okay. Oh, and that would mean I’d see more of Justin and Angie, their best friends. I’d love to have them in my life.
Elin: Can you tell us anything about any of your WIPs?
Dianne: I’ve been working on a short story involving a gargoyle for about a month now. I thought I had it about done, but the ending keeps growing longer! And yes, it’s about another tortured soul living in a world of magic. Adrian has given up all that he loves to be the protector of… Well, I’ll let you read the story!
I’ve also started a contemporary romance that I’m quickly falling in love with. I adore my main character, and knowing what’s in store for him before he reaches his HEA is pretty heartbreaking. But knowing he will have a happy ending helps me write the hard parts.
I also have a sequel for Nathaniel plotted out in my mind, now just have to find the time to write it!
Elin: Thank you so much, Dianne for answering the questions so candidly. One final thing – could we please have an excerpt from Eran’s Release?
Dianne: But of course!
Breathless Press: http://www.breathlesspress.com/
Raised by an abusive father, Eran shies away from intimacy until a lovely stranger walks into his life. Paul, intensely attracted to the shy, sensual young man, wonders if he can risk his heart one more time to be the friend and lover Eran obviously needs.
Eran darted out of reach and disappeared into the next room. Paul followed, almost colliding with him where he’d stopped just over the threshold to the living room. Eran chewed his lips as he eyed the couch against the wall bathed in the soft lights of the Christmas tree.
Color tinged Eran’s cheeks, but he met Paul’s gaze steadily, eyes wide open, anxious. He swallowed convulsively before he spoke. “Will you show me what to do?” He gestured helpless at the couch. “I’ve read a little… I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“Come here, baby.” Paul slipped an arm around Eran’s waist and led him to the couch, sitting beside him. “We can start by kissing.” He smiled roguishly. “You’re very good at that.”
Eran laughed and Paul claimed his mouth, pushing against him until the slim body lay under his. Eran shifted to make room and Paul groaned as Eran’s thigh brushed against his aching cock.
“Do that again,” he commanded and sighed with bliss as Eran drew up his knee and ground his leg against Paul’s groin. Eran’s hard erection rubbed against Paul’s hip bone.
Paul rolled to his side, needing to see the body that was driving him crazy. He slid his hands under Eran’s shirt and pulled it over his head. His gaze roamed hungrily over the finely sculpted chest and his breath went out in a whoosh of instant, burning lust. A tiny silver hoop glittered in the right nipple.
“Oh Eran,” he stammered, his mouth drawn irresistibly to the shiny trinket that had featured in his most intimate fantasies. He licked the very tip of the dark bud with its silver ornament, and thrilled as it hardened. He circled the nipple with his tongue and drew the ring between his lips, sucking gently. He flicked it with his tongue, biting a little. He bit harder, his blood rioting at the feel of hard silver and soft skin in his mouth. So erotic. God, he wanted to swallow the nipple whole!
Eran’s hand threaded in his hair, tugging a little, and he reluctantly lifted his head. Focus! Eran’s face was flushed with desire and his chest rose rapidly under Paul’s hand.
Paul returned to the sweet mouth. “Sorry,” he said between impassioned kisses. “A small fetish I have.”
“I could tell,” Eran murmured, a smile in his voice. He licked his way down Paul’s chin to his neck, tasting his skin. Paul shivered pleasantly as sharp teeth nibbled his collarbone.
“I have another fetish,” Paul confessed, raising his chin to give Eran more room.
“What is it?” Eran’s voice was suddenly thick. Paul didn’t reply as he slid his hand across Eran’s flat abdomen and undid the top button on his jeans. Buttons? He laughed in delight. “I love buttons!” he said, squirming down to settle his head on Eran’s ribs. He listened to the heartbeat quicken under his ear as his fingers undid the button fly one at a time. He licked his lips when Eran’s erection was freed, unhindered by underwear.
“Lovely,” he murmured, enchanted by the pearl of moisture on the rounded tip, drawing his lips. Salty, tangy. So delicious. He needed more, and took the hard length into his mouth, and shivered as the hot thick cock slid to the back of his throat, nearly choking him. He took in as much of Eran as he could, and swallowed. Eran’s moan became a guttered cry and he gripped Paul’s hair. The pain in his scalp shot through Paul’s body and his dick jerked, dribbling slightly. God, he hadn’t been this ready in a long time.
The pitch of Eran’s cries changed. He was almost there. Paul drew his head back, sucking Eran’s cock then letting it slide out between his lips. He kissed his way up the glistening body and met Eran’s lust dazed eyes. Eran moaned as Paul kissed him and took Eran’s hot erection in his hand, stroking him off.
Eran flung his head back against the pillows, lost in pleasure. “I can’t stop…”
Paul leaned on an elbow, captivated by the wild passion in Eran’s face. “Come for me, baby,” he pleaded, stroking harder, his own erection throbbing. Eran’s breath caught as he tensed, lovely color flooding his cheeks. His body shuddered, and then with a shout he was coming in Paul’s hand, his penis jerking as semen shot up his chest. His cries intoxicated Paul and he stared, awed, as ecstasy made Eran bewitchingly beautiful.
Paul gathered the sweaty, trembling body in his arms as Eran calmed. “Darling,” he whispered, hiding his face in Eran’s neck. He didn’t understand the emotion swelling in his chest. Eran in climax had been the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He wanted to spend the rest of his life bringing that look of bliss to Eran’s face.