by Lea Franczak)
Multipublished, award-winning author HelenKay Dimon's first release from her new Holton Woods series is Mercy, and it's a hot, suspenseful, erotic romance. HelenKay is here to talk about Mercy and the Holton Woods club that provides the book's setting.
Lea: Welcome back to HEA, HelenKay!
HelenKay: Thank you for having me here. I love visiting HEA.
Lea: When readers think "HelenKay Dimon," they think romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels. Mercy is a hot, erotic romantic suspense, and the story involves the hero and heroine's complicated relationship, as well as a secondary m/m love story that is equally integral to the plot. Have you published an erotic romance previously?
HelenKay: I actually have. Some of my favorite early reads were books that straddled the line between being very hot and erotic and that's where I started writing. The first book I sold, a novella called Hardhats & Silk Stockings, was in the anthology When Good Things Happen To Bad Boys, and it, along with a few of my other releases from Kensington's Brava imprint, were more erotic.
But it's true I tend to write very sexy as opposed to erotic romance. Mercy, and the follow-up stand-alone Only, are definitely erotic. The sexual relationship guides the romantic one. There is no way to separate one from the other. The same was true in a short I did for Samhain years ago called A Proper Seduction. Honestly, I love writing more than one heat level and in many genres. That's how I read as well.
Lea: Is this the first romance novel involving a same-sex relationship that you've written? If so, was stepping into this new genre difficult for you to write?
HelenKay: This is absolutely my first male/male romance. Here's one of the secrets from writing the book: I sold Mercy as part of a two-book deal but only knew what the first book would be about. When I started writing Mercy, I had in my head that Wade would be the hero in the second book and he would have a heroine, and then that plan fell apart. The second Wade stepped on the page I knew he was gay and would not be the "star" of the second book as the main hero, but I refused to let him fade into the background. I loved him and wanted to give him this angsty, difficult romance in the book. To torture him a little. Wade and Eli are both in Only, so you'll see more of them.
As for it being hard or easy, writing Wade's story turned out to be very easy. I read some m/m romance and thanks to one of my favorite m/m authors — SE Jakes — I'm reading more and more. Love is love and romance is romance. At the time I didn't think about what reaction I might get to writing m/m. When Mercy was about to come out, it did hit me that some of my readers might be uncomfortable with m/m, so I've been honest and clear that Wade and Eli are not hidden. Their relationship plays a significant role in the book. People can decide their comfort level before buying. My hope is readers will try Mercy and see that Eli and Wade's romance parallels Jarrett and Becca's and both are important.
Lea: Mercy is set entirely in an exclusive club called Holton Woods. Please tell us about the club, its enigmatic owner and its clientele.
HelenKay: I loved the idea of this somewhat reclusive hero with a mysterious and criminal past who now sits in the center of Washington, D.C.'s power circle. And Jarrett Holt was born. With his rough history, he once ran the streets and owned strip clubs. Those career choices didn't make sense for the powerbroker I needed him to be, so I had him clean up his act, go legitimate and open a supper club.
For an idea about the inner workings, think about all those men's clubs in historical romances. I patterned Holton Woods a bit on those. It has a clubby feel, with expensive furnishings and comfortable leather seats. The members can eat there, talk at the bar or use private rooms to do everything from conduct business to play cards. The servers are all women — smart, beautiful and educated. I wanted a very classy and exclusive feel. A place where politicians and businessmen and those "in the know" would go to unwind and conduct business. In that atmosphere, the members would relax and maybe talk too much, which leads to Jarrett's real power — information. He listens, collects it and it helps to make him the man people want to know.
Lea: Settings usually change in a story, which helps to advance the plot and adds interest. Even though we stay inside Holton Woods through the entire story, the plot moves at a swift pace and the setting is interesting. Did you develop your characters first, then build the club around their story? Or did you imagine the Holton Woods club first?
HelenKay: The characters came first. For me, they always come first. The idea of Jarrett owning the club and living right above it fit his personality. He wouldn't have a house in the suburbs. He'd have a fairly solitary and work-driven existence. He's dark and closed off. He doesn't have many friends and his life revolves around the club and what happens there.
Since Becca is in hiding after being burned by the CIA, having her trapped there, even voluntarily, helped to build the sense that she had nowhere else to go. So, in the end, the insular feel of the setting in the club, Jarrett's lifestyle and Becca's needs were all meant to mirror each other. The pieces played off each other and, I hope, built tension and a sense of them being somewhat cut off from everything else even as people came in and out of the club.
Lea: Why is the CIA barking at the doors of Jarrett's club? Who is Becca Ford?
HelenKay: Since Jarrett deals in information, he is a bit of a target. He knows about things happening in the U.S. and abroad, things some people would like to know and others would like to keep secret. A rogue operation by a splinter CIA operation ends up targeting Jarrett. Becca was part of that group, called Spectrum, and went undercover in the club and almost immediately started living with Jarrett. She's also partly responsible for the police being called in and storming Jarrett's club to arrest him. But that was eight months ago, and her career has imploded, and the members of her old team have started dying in what looks to her like covered-up murders. Now at the beginning of Mercy she's back, asking Jarrett for help and agreeing to his terms.
Becca is one of my favorite heroines. She's not a pushover at all. She's tough and determined. A true survivor. She loves Jarrett and has from the beginning, even when she thought he did something very bad. She returns to the club and Jarrett because she needs to hide and thinks no one would believe Jarrett would assist her, so the club is a safe place to go. She concedes to his terms because she wants to be there. I love the sense that she might look as if she's "obeying," but in reality she is running the show, just doing it quietly from behind the scenes.
Lea: The humor in your novels is one of your trademarks, I think. This story is darker than many of your contemporaries that I've read. It's intense and angsty. In keeping with the story's tone, the humor is darker and more introspective. It is subtler and kinda sneaks up on you. lol
Jarrett talked on as if the rest of the room hadn't been discussing the top ten ways to squish a guy with a car.
Did you make a concerted effort to temper your humor in this one, or did it flow naturally in keeping with the relationships and the tone?
HelenKay: I actually had to make a concentrated effort not to let too much humor in. The book was dark in many ways — difficult pasts for Jarrett and Wade, a confusing relationship for Wade and Eli, danger closing in, secrecy and revenge. It struck me that some humor and sarcasm and banter would work, but too much lightness would clash with the overall tone. It was a constant challenge to keep this book dark. Only, the next book, is lighter because the hero and heroine aren't as dark. I think the humor worked better there.
Lea: Wade and Elijah's love affair is pretty volatile. Please tell us about them and the origins of their relationship. Elijah has a pretty explosive personality, doesn't he?
HelenKay: A reader described Mercy as being about broken people doing dirty things. That's probably pretty accurate. Wade knows Jarrett from his criminal days. Wade has a rough past and an awful father, but Wade is rock solid. He knows who he is. He's gay and devoted to his sister and Jarrett. He doesn't flinch from his background. He's kind of this big tough guy with a deep sense of loyalty.
Elijah is not solid. His also comes from a rough background — one you don't really find out about until Only — and spent his life going from operation to operation for the CIA. He has an anger-management issue, trust issues … all sorts of issues. He feels something more than sexual attraction for Wade but has no idea how to express it.
The Wade/Eli mix is purposely volatile. Mercy is presented from Wade's perspective. Only is told from ElI's. Let's just say my editor was skeptical that Eli could be redeemed in any way after Mercy, but she loved him by the end of Only. There's no better compliment.
Lea: You developed standout well-formed secondary characters for Mercy. Lawyer Sebastian (Bast) Jameson is sure to win readers' hearts. Will we be treated to his story?
HelenKay: Bast is the hero of Only, which comes out in October. He's a workaholic and likes to get his own way, and when Wade's baby sister — Kyra — walks into his life, Bast is totally blindsided.
Lea: What about CIA agent Natalie Udall? Will she make an appearance in future books?
HelenKay: Natalie does play a role in Only. I have a soft spot for her and am hoping to write her story as well.
Lea: You've got a big year ahead. What can your fans look forward to reading in the coming months?
HelenKay: Yes, 2014 is a big release year! I have three back-to-back releases from Harlequin Intrigue, continuing my Corcoran Team series. The last of those three, Traceless, is officially out on June 1. I also have a series based on sons of a con man, the Hanover Brothers series. The third book, Long Way Home, is the oldest brother Callen's story and comes out in August, with the last book in the series, Too Far Gone, coming out in November. Then Only, the follow-up to Mercy, is out in October. And — yes, there's more — I start a new romantic suspense series about a joint MI6/CIA task force soon. A prequel novella comes out in December with the first single title — Playing Dirty — coming out in February 2015. There's something for everyone, but I hope people will try them all.
Lea: Thank you so much for taking time to visit with us, HelenKay. Good luck with Mercy and your future releases. : )
HelenKay: Thank you for having me here!
Find out more about HelenKay and her books at helenkaydimon.com.
Lea Franczak cannot remember a time when she didn't have a book in her hand. She's read and enjoyed multiple genres but is especially partial to contemporary and erotic romance, dark gritty romantic suspense, paranormal romance and has recently become a New Adult junkie. Lea has been blogging and reviewing since 2008 and is active on Goodreads. Lea is also HEA's Tweeter Extraordinaire. Follow HEA on Twitter (@HEAusatoday).