Very happy to have Tori St. Claire at Smexy Books today. She is celebrating the release of two books, Stripped and Immortal Hope under her pen name Claire Ashgrove. Let’s get to it.
Who is Tori St. Claire? Give us the low down.
Tori St. Claire — well, that’s me! I’m an author, a mother, a sometimes website designer, and a horse-lover. I have a small farm with way too many animals: horses, dogs, cats, bird, mouse. When I’m not writing (hah!), I really like to cook, watch movies with my boys, and I’m a video game addict. We also spend a great deal of time doing stuff outdoors when the weather’s nice — I like to play at planting flowers and the like but inevitably kill them all. I’m obsessed with chocolate, coffee, and I love the color purple.
Under your other pen name, Claire Ashgrove, you are known for historicals, paranormals and contemporaries. How did Tori St. Claire come about and what made you turn to erotic suspense?
Erotic suspense was an accident that turned into good fortune! I wrote a very hot romantic suspense and it was shopped as an intended Claire title. I went to the SOLA Conference last spring, spoke with Alexis Walker and Delilah Devlin, and began to contemplate doing an erotic title. When I left the conference, the plan was try that once I finished the novella I was working on. However, before I managed to get started on that endeavor, Berkley wanted the conversion of my romantic suspense to erotic, which posed a nice challenge for me, so I accepted. The second pen name came as an attempt to create a clear divide between subgenres. I have no problem with people knowing I write as both, but I didn’t want readers expecting one thing and getting something drastically different. So to alleviate confusion along those lines — or perhaps shocking surprise — I chose to create a second pen name.
The heroine in Stripped, Natalya Trubachev is a pretty bad ass character, that has to really look deep within herself to perform her duties as an undercover elite CIA agent. Give us some insight into writing her.
Natalya is a tough write, in all honesty, even though the book itself flowed naturally. She peforms some pretty heinous deeds. Giving her enough heart and substance to make her likeable despite that, so that I could effectively redeem her in any fashion, was challenging. The parts with Brandon were pretty easy, but separating her off and looking at just *her*, required some creativity I hadn’t tapped into previously. In the end, I had to accept that as a Black Opal, Natalya is never going to be a "Sunday school teacher", she’s never going to have that layer of innocence that are found in most heroines that make them people we want to know. Her story is her own. Her flaws are real and can’t be erased. Accepting her "as is", and acknowledging that she can’t be 100% good, made everything finally click. Then, as the entanglement with Brandon developed, I was able to pull out her soft spots and crank open her heart, which made her, I believe, more human overall.
There are a lot of characters in this book with secret connections to each other. I assume you must have planned the whole story out? As you wrote did any character or scene surprise you?
I. Plot. Everything.
I have spreadsheets for characters, plot aspects, and you name it. Then all that gets transposed into a detailed outline. I won’t put a single word to the actual story down until I have the plot concreted in that outline. And unlike a lot of authors I am close to, my characters do not get to take-over the manuscript. Otherwise all that plotting is for naught.
All that said, sometimes there are surprises in the planning. Places where I thought initially I’d take it one way, but lightning strikes and I want to go another way (which means backtracking and replotting sometimes). In STRIPPED, one of those places was an argument between Natalya and her partner, Sergei, in the club Fantasia, where they are arguing. What he says there… yeah… that line kinda took me by surprise.
Also, when Natalya is looking for her car keys, that was a plot aspect that struck in the middle of things.
And. Opie. How to put this without saying too much…? The scene in the bushes? He was not supposed to be there in the initial design.
Our hero, Brandon Moretti is a very smexy character. What actor do you think would best portray him?
Laugh! Everyone is asking me about actors, and I can’t express how clueless I am about them! I can probably count on one hand the number of actors I know by name. Who’s the actor who played the Terminator in the newest Terminator movie? I think he’d suit quite well.
I’m so excited to read the next in the Black Opals series, Lie to Me. What can you tell us about it?
Mmm. I REALLY like Lie To Me. Though I wish I hadn’t put anything up on my website about it, because now I find I want to keep it secret until the last minute that it’s Alexei’s story. Alexei was a character who I knew "Came next" but I had no idea what I was doing with him until I had to develop a proposal. And then, boy did he come to life! He has some very strong demons chasing him. Things from his past that have broken him (in his opinion) beyond repair. Pulling him back together, pulling that heart of his out into the open… I loved every minute of it. Sasha, the woman he kidnapped has her own skeletons in the closet. And the two of them came together like fireworks.
Lie to Me will bring the same type of building plot that is multi-layered. What you see, isn’t always what you get. There’s some continued storyline with Natalya interwoven that I find entertaining and I think you’ll get a good chuckle over. And, we meet new characters as well, one of whom, in particular, has my beta readers in fits.
One thing to note — while the surrounding activities still involve the basis of the plot from STRIPPED, this book isn’t dependent on having read STRIPPED first. The subplot is pretty self-contained, and although there are smatterings of something larger going on, LIE TO ME can completely stand alone.
Writing as Claire Ashgrove, you also have a new release the same day, Immortal Hope. Tell us about that book.
Ah, Immortal Hope. Happy sigh.
You know, having two releases on the same day is really hard because I can’t like one book more than the other. And I don’t suppose I do, as they are both totally different from each other, from style to tone to subgenre. But, Immortal Hope was the dream project. It was what I shopped to my agent in hopes of publication, it was the project I spent a year researching before plotting. So I am particularly attached to Immortal Hope and that series overall.
Back to what it is:
It’s a dark paranormal romance about cursed Templar Knights, demons, archangels and the most unholy, Azazel’s ascension to the highest throne. It’s based on a lot of historical fact, then I employed speculative fiction on gaps in history. Unlike the Black Opal series, IMMORTAL HOPE is epic in design and The Curse of the Templars series really is a true series. Each book builds on what happened in the one previous.
I think the back cover copy describes this book far better than I can in condensed version:
Templar knights defied the archangels and unearthed the copper scroll, revealing the gates to hell. Cursed for their forbidden act, they forever roam the earth protecting mankind from evil. But darkness stalks them, and battles they fight bring them ever-closer to eternal damnation. One promise remains to give them salvation – the return of the seraphs.
Embittered by his purpose, Merrick du Loire must honor an ancient pact and bring peace to his cousin’s soul. When he stumbles upon history professor Anne MacPherson, he discovers she possesses a sacred artifact that marks her as a seraph. Duty demands he set aside his personal quest and locate the knight she’s fated to heal. As he struggles with conflicting oaths, Anne arouses buried hope and sparks forbidden desire that challenges everything he’s sworn to uphold.
Anne has six weeks to complete her thesis on the Knights Templar. When Merrick takes her to the Templar stronghold, he presents her with all she needs—and awakens a soul-deep ache, he alone can soothe. Yet loving Merrick comes with a price. If she admits she’s destined for him, her gift of foresight predicts his death.
Did you do anything special to celebrate release day?
I went to the bookstore only to discover that the ONLY Jan 3 New Release in romance that had made it on the shelves yet was Maya Banks’ new KGI book. The manager wasn’t entirely open to finding mine, or the ones I went in to purchase in the back either, so I left with only accomplishing one book on my BUY list and getting STRIPPED on the shelves, before I decided I better vanish. I’m not entirely certain what she is doing with a job in customer relations.
After that I went to lunch with my mother and my boys :)
What is up next for both Tori St. Claire and Claire Ashgrove?
With Tori, it’s LIE TO ME in July. Fingers crossed we’ll see acception of a new proposal that continues the Black Opals. I also have a historical project I’m working on.
With Claire — a whole bunch of things. The Curse of the Templars continues later this year as well. Meanwhile I’m concluding a series of short novellas, Inherited Damnation. I have a project with a fellow author co-hort, and I’d like to piddle around with a fantasy project I began a while ago.
Thanks Tori! Today, we have a copy of Stripped to give away! To enter, just leave a comment. Open to US/Canada through January 12.