My guest today is Indra Vaughan who has just published her debut gay romance novel, The House on Hancock Hill. It is set in Michigan, where Indra lives, and since it concerns the romantic adventures of a pastry chef, she tells me she wrote it in a state of constant hunger.
Thank you for visiting, Indra, and for answering my questions.
Elin: Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
Indra: Well, I’m from Belgium. I lived there until I was 21, got a degree in Midwifery, then moved to England where I took a Bachelor in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I worked as a nurse for eight years, but when we moved to the US I had to give it up because my degree didn’t transfer. I did work here as a Case Manager for a while but it wasn’t the same. So this is when I started thinking about turning my writing into a full time project, and here I am. (It’s not a career yet, far from it, but hope springs eternal, right?)
Elin: When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?Indra: I read a lot, but that’s sort of tied in with the writing I think. Apart from that I’m as creative as a mountain goat. I can’t paint or draw to save my life. In fact I can barely cut in a straight line with a pair of scissors.
I did write about knitting, once, for the Love Has No Boundaries Event on Goodreads. I pinch-hit a story about a guy who knits magical beanies. So if course I called it Genie in a Beanie, because how could I not.
Elin: What are you reading? Can you recommend something that you wished you’d written yourself?
Indra: I am currently reading the Infected series by Andrea Speed (and by reading I mean attempting to gather my courage to move on to the third book).
The book I wish I’d written… None of my favorites because then I wouldn’t have known the pleasure of reading them. So maybe Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin because then I would be all knowledgable about little writing tricks.
Elin: In that crucial inspiration stage of a new story which comes first? Plot, situation or character?
Indra: Usually the character comes first. I find if I have to go from a situation or a plot, the story doesn’t flow so easily.
Elin: Is there any genre you would love to write, ditto one you would avoid like a rattlesnake? What inspired you to write about The House on Hancock Hill?
Indra: I would love to write Fantasy. In fact one of my very first serious writing efforts years ago was a a Fantasy trilogy, which I believe has potential but I am just terrified to open that document. I remember at the end of it I became so frustrated I killed off my MC. Which posed a problem.
As for a genre I would avoid… I think never say never is a good philosophy, but I’m pretty certain I won’t ever attempt writing an autobiography. My life is just too plain boring. (And I like it that way.)
Elin: Put together your ideal team of men/women drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?
Indra: Gina Torres – because even alligators quake in their leather at the sight of this magnificent woman.
Indiana Jones – he was my childhood hero and he would be excellent against the muggers and fundamentalists.
Kat Stratford in Ten Things I Hate About You – because that character opened my eyes when I was an 18 year old young woman. She made me realize looking pretty for a boy is not a goal in life.
Lucien Vaudrey & Stephen Day from KJ Charles’s Magpie Lord series – because they would kick ass (and maybe make out a little).
Elin: Villains are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. The cruel sea. The serial killer. The society itself. Your hero’s inner demons. What sort of villains do you prize?
Indra: The one I can relate to on some level, whether it’s an inner demon or a real one. I want to understand the villain’s reasoning, and not have him/her/it be evil for evil’s sake. Everyone who does wrong has some sort of motivation, and many believe they are doing the right thing.
Elin: What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
Indra: I am working on three different things right now, but the biggest project is the Shadow Mountain series, which is a paranormal mystery. It takes place in a made-up town that sits in the shadow of a looming mountain, where people keep dying in mysterious ways. Lieutenant Hart, who is head of cold cases, investigates these deaths when he starts to see a pattern. He quickly finds out nothing makes sense, his dead father was involved in the mystery, and the guy he just hooked up with is keeping secrets from him too.
Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something?
Indra: Of course. Here’s an excerpt of The House at Hancock Hill.
Since the bakery had closed two hours ago, I considered not going inside the shop to check who it was, but the knock came again. I couldn’t remember any other time anyone had tried to get in at this hour, so I stuck my head through the kitchen door. A man was pressing a hand to the window and peering in. I didn’t need to turn on the light to see who it was. That build—those strong shoulders and narrow waist, sharp cheekbones and a well-defined jaw. An exquisitely tailored three-piece suit.
It was Tom.
If he hadn’t spotted me then, I’d have hidden in the kitchen and waited for him to leave. Swallowing hard, I wiped my hands on a clean towel, snatched off my chef’s hat, and quickly looked down. There was chocolate on my apron, a smear of marzipan on my sleeve. I had butter under my nails.
Well, he’d arrived unannounced, he’d have to take it or leave it. I unlocked the door and stepped back, pulling it open. On the threshold, Tom smiled at me in a way that used to make my heart swell.
“My God, Jason.” Tom said nothing else, and I couldn’t help it: it thrilled me to see him look at me like that.
“Tom.” I faltered. What could I say? Good to see you? I wasn’t sure it was. He grinned at me, and it was so familiar, it ached somewhere inside me even after all these years.
“I sent you an email a couple of days ago to say I was in town, but I gather from the look on your face you didn’t get it.”
“It’s been really busy.” With an apologetic little wave, I indicated the yellow and green Easter decorations, the chocolate ducklings arranged in a row according to size, the huge halved chocolate eggs filled with smaller sugar eggs.
“Well that’s great,” he said, smiling a warm, white-toothed smile. “I’m pleased. Is this a really bad time? I’d love to take a look around your bakery.”
“I—yeah, sure.” I stepped aside and let him in, locking the door again so no one else could wander in. At the back of the shop, I flicked the lights on and then watched Tom look around.
To see him here was surreal. He was part of a life that had been over for so long, I didn’t know if I was comfortable with him in my bakery.
Who was I kidding? Of course I wasn’t comfortable. Tom looked like he’d walked off the front cover of Forbes magazine, and I probably had flour in my hair. To be fair, he peered around with real interest. When he spotted the marzipan animals in every color imaginable, I thought he was going to press his face to the display window like a kid. Tom didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I remember marzipan being his Achilles’ heel.
“Those look amazing,” he said on cue, and I laughed. “Did you make all this yourself?”
“I do the confections and Alice does the bread.” Tom beamed at me, and I rolled my eyes. “Yes, you can try one.” I stepped behind the counter and plucked a little pink piglet off the tray, handing it over with a smirk.
“Thanks, Jason. I’ll pay you.”
“No need. Go on, try it.”
Tom bit off the nose. For some reason I knew he’d do that. “Mmmm,” he went, closing his eyes and making a dramatic blissful face. “Oh my God.” He ate the rest of the piglet and licked his fingers. “That article wasn’t lying.”
I frowned at him and took off my stained apron, draping it over the cash register. “What article?”
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Tom explored the rest of the display. “Just something I read awhile back. I can’t remember where, but it’s how I found out you owned your own bakery. Oh.” He straightened. “It was about opening a second one in Detroit and how it was quickly becoming a household name or something.” I hadn’t read the article, but I couldn’t say it didn’t please me to hear it. “Who was it that opened the other one? Denny Sherwood or something?”
“Sheridan. Denny Sheridan. Sherwood is the name of the bakery.”
“Right, of course.” He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Got to be tough to have a long distance thing going.”
Laughing at the badly hidden snooping, I said, “He’s married with two kids.”
Tom headed back my way and grinned at me with an open affection I wasn’t used to from him. “It’s so good to see you. I didn’t give you a hug. Can I hug you, or are you still allergic to affection?”
A sudden lump rammed its way into my throat when I thought about how I’d kissed Henry in front of his clinic, visible to all and sundry. I shoved the image away. “I guess not.” It was still awkward to hug him. Maybe because it’d been so long since I’d seen Tom, and he’d just appeared out of nowhere. Or maybe I was forever going to be unable to adjust to holding someone shorter.
“You look good,” Tom said, and I let him go.
After a silence that had me look away first, Tom said, “Is there anywhere we can get dinner at this hour, or does everything close at eight?” He laughed, but for some reason his attitude grated on me. Traverse City wasn’t that small.
“I’m actually in the middle of making a chocolate Easter bunny. I can’t leave it overnight.”
“Can I watch?”
That was the last thing I wanted, but I didn’t know how to say it without being rude, and I doubted very much the request would’ve bothered me if it had come from Henry. “Okay. Yeah, sure.”
The Easter bunny broke in two when I took it out of the mold. Tom was perched on the clean worktable behind me, and he laughed. It took me a good minute before I could turn around without showing moisture in my eyes. Tom slid off the counter and put his hands on my arms, rubbing them up and down, so I probably hadn’t hidden my dismay very well.
“Come on,” he said. “Let me take you to dinner.”
“I’ll go grab my coat.” I went into the small office. It had a little mirror behind the door, and I quickly checked my hair. It did have flour in it. Ah well, at least the scar on my chin was slowly beginning to fade.
The House on Hancock Hill by Indra Vaughn
Pastry chef and bakery owner Jason Wood bakes a mean chocolate soufflé, yet his love life keeps falling flat. He’d blame his past if he wasn’t trying so hard to avoid it.
When his family’s farmhouse burns to the ground, he’s summoned to identify a body found in the ashes. Jason returns to Hancock, Michigan, and reunites with a childhood friend, small town vet Henry McCavanaugh. After fifteen years apart, their rekindled friendship soon develops into much more. But Jason’s baggage threatens their blossoming romance, and he leaves town unannounced to escape his feelings—and Henry’s feelings for him. He has learned the hard way if something seems too good to be true, it’s best to run for the hills. Jason stress-bakes more confections than he knows what to do with before wondering if he’s running in the wrong direction.