Connie sits down to discuss life and books with the talented Kaje Harper.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you consider writing a new book?
Most of my stories begin with an image or a scene – in the case of my most recent, Sole Support, it was the scene with Kellen and Mike meeting in the cafe – I wondered why things wouldn’t be smooth sailing for them, and realized it was because Kellen would soon be preoccupied with his elderly mother, whom he realizes isn’t just forgetting a bit of her English, but starting to lose who she is. Sometimes I just make a note of the image for a plot-bunny file. Other times it grabs me and demands to be written. Kellen wanted to share the difficult journey through being a caregiver and into a sweet ending.
Sole Support has a very special dedication, care to share a bit more about your mom and why this book in particular is for her?
For the first time ever, I took a character from real life and used her to create someone in a book. The mother in Sole Support is not my mum in all respects, of course. But her brilliance as a scientist, and the way she hid her slow decline and was fiercely independent are true to my own mother. Mum has suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years (probably more than we ever knew) and is now unable to speak clearly or remember my name, and her limitations frustrated her a lot throughout that downhill slide. She has wonderful caregivers, to whom I dedicated this book. In the last three years, they gave her a remnant of choice and dignity in her life with their excellent care, and I owe them so much. Mum was a big reader for almost all of her 88 years, and I like to think she would have been proud of me for finally publishing two years ago, (although her opinion of the swearing in my stories might not have been quite so favorable. She was big on courtesy at all times.)
It felt more mature in ways, for an older audience, is that how it was conceived, how you thought about it? The characters felt like they could be your next door neighbour with RL problems.
I try, with all my stories, to have a realistic feel to the characters and situations, even when I’m writing historical or fantasy. That’s especially true for my contemporary stories. I’m always pleased when people say they believe in my guys. These characters are 37 and 40, so the concerns and issues they face will probably resonate more with older readers. I didn’t specifically plan for any particular audience – just wrote the book as it came to me. I have stories ranging from Young Adult, to Into Deep Waters where the characters are in their 80s at the end of the novel. I like to think that my readers also cross a range of ages, but some books will resonate more than others.
Sex in your books is usually not gratuitous, is about the connection within the characters, is it hard to build that connection without using sex as a mean to that end?
I think it’s actually easier to build the relationship in the parts of the book that aren’t sex. Sex is important in most romantic relationships, but wonderful as it is, the important parts of becoming a couple happen in the other 23 hours, rather than the brief times when the guys are hot and sweaty and loving each other physically. Sometimes what happens in the bedroom is very relevant, of course – times of discovery and defining boundaries and needs. Those are the scenes I write out. But a lot of the sex my guys are having is just bonding and pleasure – wonderful for them but not particularly interesting to the reader – and that can stay off page as I show the relationship developing in other ways.
in Sole Support you introduce a few BDSM elements, that’s new, how was that experience?
The BDSM is about as light as it gets – a little bondage that is mostly discussion, and one guy who is much more toppy than the other. In this case, Kellen really needs control, and Mike needs to feel cared for, so it works for them. I’ve done a bit of the Ds type relationship between Aaron and his boyfriend in the second Hidden Wolves novel and its sequel short, so it’s not totally new. Some of the pairings I’ve written have been very equal, even in bed, others have had more top/bottom consistency, in the bedroom or out of it. How people interact is so wonderfully variable, and the balance of dominance in sex may or may not echo the rest of the relationship. As I read more in the genre, I become more comfortable with the milder aspects of BDSM, especially the relationship between a Dom and sub, and maybe someday (after a lot more research) I’ll write a real BDSM book. There’s a character in Home Work, Dominick, who wants his and Will’s story told someday…
You normally have hard times coming up with book titles, for Kellen you had to come up with 3!!! How did that work?
LOL. Yes, not one of my strengths. I often have to have reader suggestions and even votes. But actually, it’s not that I’m so bad at randomly coming up with titles. It’s that I always write the book first, and then try to find a title that perfectly fits it, is also fairly unique, suits my style… Here I just needed something that sounded plausible, without worrying if it reflected an underlying story.
Oz the cat, gets a very important place in Sole Support, are you a cat or a dog person?
I’m definitely both. Right now I have a little Bichon-mix dog, whom I adore except when he’s eating Scrabble tiles or whining for a bite of my lunch (the little glutton.) My husband is allergic to cats, so we don’t have any, but I had cats all through my childhood, and I love their personalities.
What is your writing process? how do you do the research for your stories? (Sole Support is probably from personal experience?) Do you outline the story in advance or write as it comes to you? How much inspiration for your characters you get from RL people?
I’m really an instinctive writer – I start with that image or scene, sit down at the keyboard, and type. For me, part of the fun of writing is seeing the unexpected emerge from the story as I write it.
I never outline. At most, I may write out a snatch of plot or conversation for a chapter or two down the road. This makes the writing process feel fresh to me. The downside is that I get attached to my plot twists as they unfold, and sometimes don’t revise them even when I should. The story feels so organic that big revisions feel like tampering with something that belongs to the characters as much as it does to me.
The only RL person I’ve ever used in a book was my Mum, in Sole Support. For research, there’s the Internet and my beloved public library, and I do solicit expert opinions, both from people online and in real life where I can. I’ve had some wonderful assistance, and any factual errors that remain are all my own fault.
Will we get to see Mike and Kellen again? Or maybe Patrick and Art? I loved their relationship!
Oh boy. I have to say, I don’t know. I have a tendency to fall in love with my characters and want to come back to them. I’d love to write Patrick and Art, and I also had plot bunnies for Ricardo and for Riku. But I have a bunch of other books in the queue, including a sequel to The Rebuilding Year, to Full Circle, and the series books. So I don’t know when or if. Still, I’ve only been publishing for two years so far. There should be time for quite a few books yet.
You keep yourself very busy on line, with the GR groups and all, and still manage to write free stories for the group members. How is that different (or not) for you?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by “different.” If you mean the Young Adult free stories, those are much less polished and just for fun. I try to do one a month, written in an hour or at most a day, with one edit and then posted. That’s a bit like a jazz improv riff – something to keep limber and have fun and play around with themes, and not intended to be permanent. I’m editing a few of them for a freebie collection, and that’s a longer, slower process.
The freebies for the adult group I approach more like my pro books, with beta readers and editing multiple times. They do take some time, but I love the group (despite its occasional flaws) and enjoy putting out free reads. Even those are more fun and less pressure for me than publishing. I get more angsty about a book I’ve asked people to pay for, so free is more relaxing (although with two kids in college, my husband sighs when I tell him the next one is another freebie.)
Speaking of Goodreads, you have a story there, Nor Iron Bars A Cage, as a freebie. Was it difficult to write with reader-set parameters (picture and prompt)?
I love to write from prompts, either there or on the YA group. It fits my writing process perfectly, because that’s how my own stories come to me, in an image or a thought. It might be tougher if I couldn’t choose the written prompt I was doing – not all of them call to me.
Do you attend reader conventions? (i.e., GRL, Romantic Times, RainbowCon)
I was at GRL last year, as a reader but with my pen name, so people did recognize me. It was fun, although a bit stressful for a major introvert like me. People were great, though, and it was the first time I really felt like an author in my own skin, rather than just this online phenomenon. I will be at GRL again in Atlanta, this time as an author and on one panel, God help me. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m bringing an extroverted friend to stand behind me and push.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Optimist, dreamer, Mom
Anything you’d like to let your readers know?
I wrote for decades just for myself, sticking the stories in a drawer when I was done. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about publishing them for other people. But despite its stressful moments, being a published author has been great. I’ve really been delighted in the last two years by the enthusiasm of my readers for the books I write, and I’ve had great fun interacting with them online and at GRL. I’ve had great reviews, and thoughtful bad ones, and interesting conversations, and lots of support. I’m grateful, and glad I took the plunge .
Short bio please!
Kaje Harper grew up in Montreal and spent her teen years writing, filling binders with stories about what guys like Starsky and Hutch really did on their days off. But as life got busy, the stories began to just live in her head. The characters grew, met, endured, loved, but rarely made it to paper. Serious authorship got sidetracked by ventures into psychology, teaching, and a biomedical career. And by the challenges of raising children.
When the kids were more independent, her husband gave her a computer she didn’t have to share. She began putting words down in print, just for fun. Hours of fun. Lots of hours of fun. The stories began piling up, and her husband suggested it was time to try to publish one. MLR Press accepted her first book, Life Lessons, which was released in May 2011. Kaje now has several novels and short stories in print. She currently lives in Minnesota with a creative teenager, a crazy little omnivorous white dog, and a remarkably patient spouse.
Leave a comment for Kaje before 6/17 for a random chance to win a copy of Sole Support! CONGRATULATIONS JOE, winner of a copy of Sole Support!