Southern Comfort food

“Ginger and  Gentlemen”, the third story in the Recipe for Romance series, is coming out from Torquere Press tomorrow, so I thought I’d talk a bit about cooking and recipes since those are central themes to the series.

The series is set in South Carolina, which both Ari and I are familiar with; we aren’t South Carolinians, but we are Southerners, and we both like Southern comfort food. Okay, I admit it: I don’t like collards, a fact that has gotten me threatened with expulsion from my family more than once. But that’s my biggest “do not want” when it comes to Southern cuisine.

Stephen’s kitchen produces more upscale dishes, but Ian Pierce’s diner is strictly food like Mama and Grandmama used to make. I can see his menu featuring collards, fried chicken, cornbread, hushpuppies, corn (on the cob and creamed), sweet potato casserole, fried green tomatoes, okra (fried and stewed), and seafood. Lots and lots of fresh seafood!

Two dishes in particular feature predominately in the story, so I thought I’d share recipes for both of them. I’ve never made a seafood boil myself, so I combed through regional cookbooks when we were writing the story to find something that sounded like Ian might make it. The recipe for Ian’s gingersnaps is actually my recipe. I’ve been making them for years during the winter and tinkered with the recipe until I got the level of “snap” I wanted.

Continue reading “Southern Comfort food”


Giveaway! And other stuff!

“Ginger and Gentlemen”, the third novella in the Recipe for Romance series, is coming out next week! It’ll be out July 24 from Torquere Press, and we’re hosting a chance to win a free digital copy here. Enter to win between now and July 24!

Some of our readers have mentioned their fondness for our snarky executive chef, Stephen Pierce, so his fans may be glad to know that while this isn’t his and Robert’s story (that’s “Cinnamon and Seduction”, which will be coming out November 6), Stephen plays a larger role in this story than he has in the previous two.

In “Ginger and Gentlemen”, Stephen is filming a special for the Gourmet Network with Max Boyd as his director, and he’s suggested featuring his little brother’s restaurant. Ian Pierce owns his own diner, The Filling Station, in Hickory Bend, SC, which specializes in classic Southern comfort food like chicken and pastry, collards, and seafood boils. The food and the setting are both perfect for Stephen’s show, but unfortunately, the brothers haven’t been on good terms since… Well, ever.

Nine years apart, they had little in common while growing up, and their father drove a wedge between them when he focused all of his time and attention on molding Stephen into the perfect chef to continue the Pierce legacy and ignored Ian. Now Ian has to try to put aside all of his anger, jealousy, and resentment in order to work with Stephen because he’s in danger of losing his diner, and he desperately needs the money that doing the show will bring.

For Ian, the diner represents more than a means of earning a living. It’s his lifelong dream, and it’s his way of thumbing his nose at his father and brother. After a lifetime of being compared to Stephen and found lacking, he’s desperate to prove he’s capable of emerging from under Stephen’s shadow and succeeding as a chef in his own right.

Meanwhile, Ian’s best friend, Matt Davis, is working his own angle, convincing Max to add a bonus to Ian’s contract and putting up the money for it himself because he’ll do anything to help Ian avoid losing his diner. But Ian is fiercely proud and independent, determined to succeed on his own, and if he finds out that Matt has gone behind his back like this, it could spell the end of their friendship — and Matt will lose the man he loves.

For this story, I wrote Ian, and I have to say, he’s one of the most fun characters I’ve ever written. Ian is snarky and outspoken, and he constantly surprised me with the uninhibited dialogue that popped out of his mouth. That may sound weird, but I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who know exactly what I mean when I say Ian is one of those characters who has a mind of his own, and I didn’t so much write him as hand over the keys, sit quietly in the passenger seat, and hold on while he took over the ride.

This boy knew what he wanted, and he made sure to tell me as well as the other characters in the story. Fortunately, Matt is much more easy-going, and he didn’t mind Ian’s forcefulness. Like Stephen and Robert, they’re very much a yin-yang match, but even if Matt had balked, Ian knows all he has to do is whip up a batch of gingersnaps using his own secret recipe, designed and perfected just for Matt, to make Matt come running.

As an aside, I’d like to point to our various social media accounts. Some of them see more use than others, because hours in the day, etc. but we do try to keep fairly involved!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ari-Mckay/266185570179748
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AriMcKay1
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6153630.Ari_McKay
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Ari-McKay/e/B00CHBT3NA
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/arimckay/boards/

I’ve also added widgets from Goodreads on our short stories, novellas, and novels pages so that each individual entry has a button that will let you add that story/novella/novel to your Goodreads shelf right from our site!


The evolution of a novel

I believe I’ve mentioned before that we originally developed the concept for Blood Bathory when we were writing a fanfiction story back in 2007; we wanted the main characters to be involved in an online fandom, but we didn’t want to use a real fandom in case someone took offense and thought we were poking fun at it. We hadn’t planned to do as much world-building as we did, but it seemed that once we got started, we got on a roll and ended up creating much more for the imaginary fandom than we intended.

In the original story, Blood Bathory was intentionally over the top, cheesy, and campy. I had the original Dark Shadows in mind, and when we were brainstorming, we agreed we wanted it to be something we could have fun with and geek out over. I wrote a couple of journal entries about our writing/thought process when we were doing all the world-building here and here, if anyone is interested in more specific info.

When we posted the story, we got several comments about the show we’d created, mostly people saying they would actually watch it if it was real, so when we started thinking seriously about moving away from writing fanfiction and toward writing original fiction, we thought maybe taking the concept of the show and working it into a premise for a novel might be a good idea. We both love the supernatural/paranormal genre, so it was a natural choice for us. However, we had to make significant changes to the overall concept and plot to make it workable. The tongue in cheek fun we’d had with the fictional TV show wouldn’t work for a more serious paranormal romance.

We kept the main characters pretty much the same. The original had a Will Trask and an Evan St. John, and there was a character named Marielle, who started out as a “Voodoo queen”. We eliminated the Voodoo element from the original and replaced it with the theriomorph concept, making them the servants of Gaia who fight Elizabeth Bathory and the rest of the Blood Cursed, i.e. vampires. Marielle ended up evolving into a shapeshifter who is thousands of years old, a former priestess of Isis who became a servant of Gaia.

We needed to create a strong supporting cast, some of whom include Elizabeth’s daughter Anna, a former California surfer dude turned shape-shifter, and an outspoken forensic specialist who enjoys needling Will and Evan every chance she gets. None of these characters existed in the original concept, so we had to develop them once we began writing the novel.

Developing the concept of Gaia required a lot of thought. How much power and influence does she have over the world? Is she a deity or not? Does she have limits? We had to think things through, especially since we decided to expand the story into a trilogy, and we wanted to be sure we could maintain consistency throughout all three books.

So basically we had to do some serious world building on our world building! But it was really fun, and we’re happy with what we’ve come up with. Instead of Voodoo queens and Evan being strapped to a sacrificial altar, we’ve got shape-shifters and a shoot out at a fashion show.

But the one thing that didn’t change is that Will and Evan are desperately attracted to each other, and their rocky road to romance plays out against the backdrop of a supernatural turf war.

Blood Bathory is now available from Torquere Press!


Trivia Tuesday!

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts about how certain characters got their names, and I freely admit that I’ll choose names entirely for my own amusement.

Readers of this blog already know that Luke Reynolds from Heart of Stone is named for Mal Reynolds from Firefly and a minor character in “Bay Leaves and Bachelors” — Peyton Wilkes — was named after Payton Place and Ashley Wilkes. Since names have been an inadvertent trend in my trivia posts, I thought I’d talk about names and how we come up with them.

Not all character names are references — just some of them. 😉 Another example of a reference name is Will Trask from our novel coming out next week, Blood Bathory: Like the Night. When we originally created the characters of Evan and Will (and that backstory is a whole ‘nother trivia post), it was because we were trying to create a fake television show for a fake fandom. The show was intended to be cheesy, over the top camp, and I had the original Dark Shadows in the back of my mind in terms of tone and feel.

In our novel, Will isn’t my character; I wrote Evan. But I’m the one who came up with Will’s name, and I took it from the original Dark Shadows, based on a “love to hate” character called Reverend Trask, who was played to melodramatic, glorious perfection by Jerry Lacy. (Have I mentioned I love Dark Shadows? Because I love it to little minty balls.)

In One the Rocks, Aidan Grimm got his last name because Ari and I are both fans of the TV show, Grimm (and of the delectable David Giuntoli, whom Aidan is physically based on).

In Fennel and Forgiveness, Darius Cooper got his last name (and his appearance) from Karl Urban’s character in Red. Ari LOVES this movie; I haven’t seen it yet, but considering the cast, it’s pretty high on my “to watch” list. Right after I get to all the movies and shows on my iTunes and DVR. >.>

There are probably other characters who have reference-based names, but I can’t pull them up off the top of my head, and some I just don’t remember. I’m not sure that we named Agnes from Heart of Stone after Agnes Gooch, for example, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

In short, we frequently include things in our writing because we’re geeks and it amuses us, so I’m sure I’ll have more easter eggs to share down the road. 😀


Trivia Thursday!

It’s Trivia Thursday instead of Trivia Tuesday this week because I was out of town, but better late than never!

Today’s trivia revolves around our Recipe for Romance series. Two stories in the series have already been published, the third will be published on July 24, and the fourth will be published later this year. Right now, we’re planning to end the series with #4, but the door is open for future stories if we ever get a plot bunny that bites hard enough.

As part of our collaboration process, we have to decide which of the characters we’re going to write. We start by picking which main character we want to write (or sometimes they pick us!) and then divide up the secondary characters more or less equally so we have about the same writing load throughout the story.

In the Recipe series, I’ve been writing against type. I tend to write the characters who are more inclined to brood, snark, and angst, which means I’d usually be the one to write a character like Stephen Pierce. But not this time! For those who might be curious, here’s a breakdown of the characters who have been seen in the series so far and which one of us wrote them.

Rhys Montgomery – McKay (i.e. me)
Clay Turner – Ari
Robert Logan – McKay
Stephen Pierce – Ari
Max Boyd – McKay
Darius Cooper – Ari

For minor characters, such as Stephen’s hapless sous chef Craig, we tend to trade off. For example, Ari wrote Payton Wilkes in the scene that created the main conflict for Rhys and Clay. The scene was in Rhys’ POV, so I was writing the bulk of the scene, and she picked up Payton so I’d have someone to play off of.

As a side bit of trivia, Payton got his name because I was thinking about Peyton Place and Ashley Wilkes from Gone With the Wind while trying to come up with a suitably Southern-sounding name.

I liked writing Rhys and Max since they were different from my usual characters. Rhys in particular was a nice change of pace for me; I liked writing a charming Southern gentleman who gets so caught up in making plans for a perfect confession of love that he almost loses his man. One of Rhys’ particular quirks is alluded to throughout the series, but I don’t think it’s ever been spelled out: when he gets depressed, Rhys holes up with a bottle of the best bourbon he can buy and listens to Patsy Cline songs on endless repeat until he starts feeling better. The worst instance occurred after his father’s death, a bit of info which I don’t think made the final cut of Bay Leaves and Bachelors. I can’t hear a Patsy Cline song now without thinking about Rhys and Clay, so she’d definitely be on the series soundtrack!

So far, my characters in the series haven’t been snarky at all, but that’s going to change with Ginger and Gentlemen, which is the third story in the series. For that one, I wrote Ian Pierce, Stephen’s younger brother, and let’s just say certain traits run in the family. 😉  Ian is hands-down one of the most fun characters I’ve ever written because he rarely bothers to censor himself. He was also one of the more mouthy characters I’ve ever had in my head; he choreographed sex scenes and insisted I take notes so I wouldn’t forget what he wanted when the time came.

Readers will be able to find out more about Ian and his rocky relationship with his snarky older brother, Stephen when Ginger and Gentlemen is released by Torquere Press on July 24!


Ari McKay’s Trivia Tuesday

Stephen Pierce and Robert Logan are secondary characters (so far) in our Recipe for Romance series, but their predecessors have been leads in our stories for years.

Ari and I began writing together when we met as fanfiction writers in the Harry Potter fandom, and we bonded over a mutual love of the characters Remus Lupin and Severus Snape. In fact, we spent years writing those two characters, and over that time, we developed definite preferences for their characterization and interaction. After the book series ended, we kept going more and more AU (alternate universe) until we finally decided we might as well start writing original fiction.

One of our AUs involved casting the characters as a chef and his personal assistant. Snape was a snarky, demanding perfectionist and Lupin was his devoted PA. It was that version of the characters we had in mind when we began developing Stephen and Robert in “Bay Leaves and Bachelors”, both as a nod to our fanfiction roots and as a way to revisit variations on character types we wrote and loved for so long.

The original chef and PA story is wildly different from the path Stephen and Robert are currently taking, but writing those two feels (for me) like slipping on a pair of comfortable old shoes.

The newest novella in the Recipe for Romance series, Fennel and Forgiveness, is now available at Torquere Press. Fans of Stephen and Robert may be glad to know that the next novella, “Ginger and Gentlemen”, will focus heavily on Stephen and will introduce his younger brother, Ian, with whom he’s always had a rocky relationship. Let’s just say snark runs in the family. 😉  “Ginger and Gentlemen” will be published by Torquere Press on July 24!


Ari McKay’s Trivia Tuesday

Ari and I are huge geeks. HUGE. Ari is more into hard sci fi than I am, and I’m more into horror than she is, but we have a lot of overlap in what we like. Probably the biggest area of overlap is our mutual adoration of Firefly, a show we’ve both watched countless times. So no, keen eyed readers, it’s definitely not a coincidence that in Heart of Stone, the town is named Serenity or that Luke’s last name is Reynolds.

In fact, if you read the description of Luke closely, you might see he looks a lot like this:


I think of Luke as having Mal Reynolds’ wardrobe and Richard Castle’s personality.

Heart of Stone is now available in ebook or trade paperback format at Dreamspinner Press.


Writing a Western

Heart of Stone isn’t technically our first novel. We wrote Blood Bathory: Like the Night first, but it got rejected when we submitted it the first time, so we shelved it and started working on stories based on specific calls for submissions. Heart of Stone is the first novel we wrote that was accepted for publication, and it came about because we saw Dreamspinner Press has an on-going call for historicals. Westerns were mentioned specifically in the submissions blurb, we started brainstorming, and it wasn’t long before Luke and Stone moseyed up to have their story told.

Ari and I share an interest in history, so it wasn’t difficult for us to dive into this genre. In fact, we’ve got multiple historical plot bunnies on our ever-growing list, so chances are, we’ll write more! But Heart of Stone is the first historical and our first novel to be published, so it’ll always be special to us.

For me, writing this novel was a bit different. As part of our collaboration process, we choose which of the lead characters we’re going to write (I talked about that in more detail here). I wrote Luke Reynolds, who is a laid-back, easy-going cowboy with a penchant for teasing — very different from the type of character I usually write!

Normally, I gravitate toward characters who are a little darker, a little more angsty, a little more broody, have more of an edge, especially in longer works. Writing issue-free characters in shorter works is easier because the action isn’t sustained over hundreds of pages, although I can still develop a broody boy in short works, Aidan Grimm from On the Rocks and Jon Lawson from Caribbean Blues being two notable examples.

Writing a character who is issue-free in a novel-length work was a huge switch for me, but I enjoyed the experience because it did take me outside of my usual comfort zone. When we meet Luke, he’s comfortable with his life and in his own skin. Falling for Stone shakes up his comfortable world, however, and he does get pushed through the angst wringer like most of our other characters (no escape from the angst wringer!), but he’s still significantly different from my usual leading men in his lightness of spirit, optimism, and good-natured personality. Luke is an extrovert, which is not a characteristic most of my characters possess. 😉

It was a refreshing break for me, not only because he’s different but also because it let me know I can write issue/angst/broodiness-free characters in a longer work. Plus he was just fun. His playfulness was enjoyable to write, and I liked seeing how he was able to draw Stone out of his shell bit by bit.

I hope the readers enjoy watching Luke and Stone’s relationship unfold as much as we enjoyed writing it! If anyone has any questions about our characters, our writing process, our books, or whatever, just drop us a comment here or tweet us at AriMcKay1.

Heart of Stone is now available in ebook or trade paperback format at Dreamspinner Press.


Contest, and On Writing and Real Life

First up today – don’t forget our Valentine’s Day Giveaway – a copy of our forthcoming story “Fortune’s Slings and Cupid’s Arrows”! You can enter multiple times, so keep putting your name in there! The contest ends February 12th at midnight, and we’ll announce and inform the winner on February 13th!

To enter the give-away, please GO HERE!

Or HERE: a Rafflecopter giveaway

On a different note, I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing and “real life”. Both McKay and I have day jobs — although I’m certainly hopeful that could change one day if we are successful enough! I’m a systems engineer, which means I build, develop, and maintain hardware and software for “big iron” computer systems. I also have two children, although my youngest is now a sophomore in college. While McKay and I had been writing together for a very long time, a lot of things came together about the time my son graduated high school, and it coincided with when we decided to “go pro”.

I think the hardest part with trying to fit in professional writing (as opposed to fanfiction) with real life is that there is far more urgency with the professional work. Most of the time we are working under a deadline we want to make for a particular call for submissions, which can be a little problematic if something comes up at work and I get stuck having to deal with it (or McKay has the same thing happen). Of course family still intervenes, “empty nest” or not. My daughter’s wedding this past December of course cut into writing time rather significantly (not that I begrudge it!) but it can be kind of stressful. I know that the writing comprises a self-assumed responsibility, but both McKay and I feel that we want to keep momentum up, to keep writing and getting our work out there. We have stories to tell, and characters clamoring for attention, and it’s HARD to go for a time without writing. I imagine it’s the way some people feel about exercise — they get cranky and don’t feel right if they don’t get their “fix”, and it’s the same way for us. Writing is an outlet, and we enjoy it. When it’s no longer fun, it’ll be time to stop.

Anyway, I would be interested in knowing how other people view their writing in relation to the rest of their lives. 😀