Earlier today I reviewed Lay it Down, the start of Cara McKenna’s new series. Now she is here to chat a little more about it!
Lay it Down kicks off your brand new Desert Dogs series. I have to say I’m quite familiar with your work and this book has a bit of a different feel to it. With multiple characters and an intriguing world that leaves a lot left to explore, this seems like a bigger, more intentional series than what you’ve done in the past. Tell us about the inspiration not only for this book but this desert setting.
It’s such a dry answer! Basically, Penguin was grooming me for a mass market series opportunity, and to say I wanted this very much is like saying the 2014 French national football team is slightly bang-able. Now, while I’m not a complete nobody at this point in my career, my name doesn’t come with a massive built-in fandom attached. (Quality over quantity, people, and my readers are smart and foxy as all get out.) So, Penguin wanted to make sure that my series stood a good chance at succeeding, at that meant picking a subgenre with steam behind it—something that new readers would pick up, regardless of whether they’d heard of me or not. They laid out a few choices, and since I enjoy writing about roughnecks living in broken-down towns, I went with motorcycle club romance. (Though to call the Desert Dogs a “club” is a stretch—they’re more a group of childhood friends who ride and work on bikes in their spare time. They get slightly more organized in book two. Slightly.)
The romance between Vince and Kim in Lay it Down is super sexy and fun. But what I liked even more is the entire cast of characters you introduce us to. From Vince’s brother Casey who made me laugh out loud more than once, to the bartender Raina who can probably kick everyone’s ass in town, and the prim and proper Duncan, who may intrigue me most of all. Give us some insight into writing these characters.
I don’t normally write the sorts of series that have a new couple in each book (aside from the MMA stories I wrote for Harlequin Blaze as Meg Maguire), but when I was told this was the direction my publisher wanted to go with me, I was all a-tingle. The book series and TV shows and movie franchises I’ve most enjoyed in the past few years almost always feature a large, eclectic, conflicting cast—think BDB, Lost, Firefly, the new X-Men reboots, Battlestar Galactica, True Blood, even competition-based reality shows like Project Runway. I adore watching people, made-up or otherwise, interacting in a big, dynamic jumble, fostering alliances and grudges, supporting or undermining each other, forming combustible lust-quadrangles and so forth. So I love that stuff, though wasn’t yet sure if I was capable of pulling it off, myself. But of course I wasn’t about to pass on a chance to find out.
Because the series was pitched as four books, and the whole thing needed an overarching plot in addition to those of the individual stories, I had to nail a load of shit down before I could begin writing. (I normally don’t plot. Normally I just think, “Oh hey, I’mma write me a book about a convicted felon hero / kinky alcoholic hermit / mentally ill male prostitute.” And then I write it, having no idea where it’ll end up going, but trusting it’ll most likely be publishable.) So this was a whole new beast to slay. I was deeply intimidated by the plotting aspects, and those do take a lot of work, but the characters just showed up right out of the gate, like I’d invited them over. (The town materialized nearly as easily.)
Character-wise, I had to start with Vince, the hero of Lay It Down. Of everyone, he most embodies Fortuity, Nevada, and typified what I thought readers would be hoping for when they picked up a book with such a butch-ass cover. From there, it was all about contrasts—despite being a cocky prick, Vince is also deeply loyal and surprisingly giving (even if he’s loathe to admit it), so in contrast, his younger brother, Casey, is a flighty, self-serving scam artist. The heroine, Kim, is sensible and measured, to Vince’s pushy bluster. Similarly, his best friend Miah (Jeremiah) is hard-working and steady and law-abiding, to balance Vince’s brash over-the-topness. And Vince and Duncan have nothing in common aside from their height and their self-importance—in their words, Vince thinks Duncan is “a creepy motherfucker,” while Duncan thinks Vince is “a feral goon.” Of all the characters, Raina and Vince are the most similar. If there was only one pair of pants up for grabs in Fortuity, they would destroy each other in the fight to wear them.
The next book (yes, I’m ready for the next book now!) features Duncan and Raina. Their set-up in Lay it Down gave me the good shivers. I can’t wait to see how these two match up against each other. Any hints?
Yeah, they’ve got to be the two most mismatched characters of all. Duncan and Raina—and I think I may be paraphrasing Raina—have nothing in common at all except for the fact that they desperately want to fuck each other. (He’s an attorney and the public face of the development conglomerate that’s bringing a controversial resort casino to sleepy Fortuity, whereas Raina owns the town’s dive bar.) Duncan mentally refers to Raina as his “bar wench” when they first meet, and Raina in turn thinks he’s a fussy prick (which he is.) Neither of them respects the other, at first. But here’s a little taste of Duncan’s evolving feelings as Give It All opens, and he’s beginning to find Raina’s rough edges more intriguing than distasteful:
“She was probably thirty-one or -two to Duncan’s thirty-eight, yet in some ways she made him feel hopelessly childish. She’d probably shot a gun, probably ridden her share of horses, taken dares, placed bets, crashed a car, fucked more people than Duncan ever would, and with far more abandon. She made him want things he’d never given much thought to. Noisy, messy sex; nails raking his back. Instincts he didn’t trust any more than he trusted his newfound two-drink minimum.”
While Duncan’s no innocent, he loses a dozen little quasi-virginities to Raina, throughout the course of the book. It’s called Give It All, but could easily be subtitled, The Dismantling of Duncan Welch. I adore Duncan. He wears three-thousand-dollar bespoke wool suits in the summer, in Nevada, and talks “like a robot butler,” to quote Raina. He’s outwardly perfect in many ways, but he also abuses his prescription medication, and flosses his teeth so aggressively he makes his gums bleed. He’s a hot mess hiding behind silk pocket squares.
After Duncan and Raina have their turn, Casey’s book is next. It’s tentatively titled Burn It Up, and I don’t think I’m giving much away by saying it will feature a lot of cussing. Miah’s book will be the fourth and likely final one, not yet titled. Though the series is somehow wildly popular and lucrative, I will go bonkers with power and demand that Penguin let me write one about John Dancer. Because nothing says “romance hero” like a drifter who lives in a van down by the river.
Thanks Cara! I’ll gift a copy of Lay it Down to two random commenters – I’ll pick winners tomorrow.