Today we have a special treat for you with not one, not two, but three authors in a join Q&A!!! Santino Hassell, Karen Stivali, and Damon Suede are all on tour together for their newest releases, Sunset Park, Moment of Silence, and Pent Up respectively! Enjoy their answers, and check back next week or the second part of their interview! Be sure and pick up their books today too!
FIRST ROMANCE (AKA My First Time):
What was the first romance novel you read? What do you remember about it? What did you like most about it?
Karen: Something I stole from my grandmother who was a romance novel addict and brought 10 when she’d visit for a week. She later kept me in my addiction by always leaving her books for me. I don’t remember a lot of titles, just that there were a lot Danielle Steele books. I do remember snagging her copy of The Thorn Birds (but it wasn’t my first). I also remember my mother flipping through some of these books, horrified, and asking “WHY do they have to have so much SEX in them?” And my grandmother and I just looked at each other and laughed. I was a very mature 11 year old at the time. Didn’t matter. I’d read all the Judy Blume books and snuck in reads of my father’s copies of Portnoy’s Complaint and Fear Of Flying already, so I was prepared for all the sexy bits (which were usually my favorite parts). What I liked most about all of the books I read was watching the characters fall in love. That still fascinates me today and is a big part of why I write romance.
Damon: I read very quickly so keeping books in the house was a full-time job for my family. I read EVERYTHING I could find. I do remember reading some early bodice-rippery Flame and the Flower style historical which didn’t make much of an impact. The firts romance I read that stayed with me was Rebecca. I remember feeling like the house was a living being. Any second Manderly would just open up a giant stony mouth and explain everything. I also remember expecting the book to be a spooky mystery and then it turned out to be wild and swoony. And of course my mom was a Hitchcock fanatic and so that was that. (What did I like most?) The intense theatricality, a combination of caged emotion and escalating menace against that looming background. High style and high stakes. Back then I didn’t know what gothic romance meant. It was unlike anything I’d ever read and not long after, I went through an obsession with neo-gothics; I must’ve read every Mary Stewart novel in a week.
What did you like least about it?
Karen: If there was too much exposition, I’d get bored and skim for sex scenes. If I liked the exposition then I’d still read it cover to cover.
Santino: At the time I was uncomfortable with how explicit the sex was. I was anything but a sheltered kid, but I was reading alongside my friend so it was incredibly awkward.
Damon: that it ended. I would have happily read another 1000 pages. DuMaurier couldn’t have gone deep enough to satisfy me. That’s one of the reasons I love midcentury fiction so much: books could still be written with razors and yet fat for a purpose.
Karen: I’m a big re-reader of books I like, so yes, I’ve reread a lot of my early favorites. Styles and trends in writing change so much that a lot of times the books (and writing) will feel dated, but the relationships stay the same and if it’s a book I once got lost in, odds are I can get lost in it again, regardless of how my preferences have changed. With any books I love it’s because I’m drawn to the characters and those don’t change over time.
Santino: I actually reread a few V.C. Andrews books when I was older, and they definitely held up to the memory I had of them. They were just as dark and twisted as they’d been when I was a kid, but I had stronger reactions to the themes. I think some of what was going on in the books went over my head when I was younger, or they didn’t strike as strong of a chord, but now I’m like “whoa this is disturbing!”. I’ve yet to reread the Lindsey book but now I really want to.
Damon: Often. I see it differently now, because I have a critical context now and I’ve written my own stuff. I think I see her technique more consciously, but there are still scenes that drag me under so that I forget that I’m sitting in a chair turning pages. I love that.
Who are your book boyfriends? (list a maximum of five) What do you like about them? What characteristics do they share with the hero from your latest release?
Karen: If I had to choose one book boyfriend, I’d choose Kingsley Edge from Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series—he’s a kinky, bi, French switch, filled with a mix of attitude and ennui, who’s simultaneously deeply damaged and drop dead sexy— and I’d do anything to him that he wanted. On paper (heh) Kingsley’s not the kind of person I’d normally be attracted to. I mean I swoon over a foreign accent as much as the next person (okay, maybe a little more than most people), and the whole deeply damaged thing is something I’ve been repeatedly drawn toward since forever…and yeah, the drop dead sexy part, that doesn’t hurt. But Kingsley is outwardly obnoxious, uber-powerful and wealthy beyond all reason, has both masochistic and sadistic streaks a mile wide and is the kind of arrogant that gives the French their reputation for being, well, French. The magic of his character is the vulnerability that lurks beneath all that.
That’s what makes him irresistible to me and, in spite of the fact that he’s outwardly the polar opposite of my main character, Jason, in Moment of Silence, they actually do have some things in common. Jason is the disowned son of a prominent rabbi and being cut off by his father caused him to be separated from his sisters as well. Kingsley was orphaned and, although he at one point was extremely close to his sister, let’s just say things changed dramatically and she disappeared from his life too. Jason and Kingsley are both willful and strong and won’t let circumstances keep them from what they want. Oh, and they’re both truly, madly deeply in love with tall, blond beautiful men with priestly commitments to the Catholic church. Different circumstances entirely…but the same unwavering, won’t-listen-to-reason, destined to save each other kind of love.
Santino: Cash from Amy Jo Cousin’s Bend or Break series. He’s a side character through the series but Girl Next Door is his story. I can’t explain enough why I love this character. He comes from an extremely privileged background which should make him extremely difficult to relate to (for me anyway), but because AJC is an amazing writer, I could still see myself in his story. Cash left the future that was handed to him by his mega wealthy parents to be a youth soccer coach in Chicago. He lives hand-to-mouth most of the time, and the narrative of his day-to-day struggles was like reading my own thoughts. He goes from the dudebro everyone wants to bang in Book 1 to the endearing and soft hearted guy everyone loves in Book 3.
As far as Cash sharing qualities with Raymond from Sunset Park… I can think of a few. They’re both very loyal to their friends and family. Cash is an amazing ally to his gay friends, and so was Raymond before he came out as bisexual. And like Cash, Raymond isn’t afraid of affection. But unlike Cash, Raymond would never seek it out on his own. Well, he wouldn’t with anyone besides David. Despite Raymond’s tough exterior and tendency to mean mug, he does absolutely nothing to stop David from cuddling up to him.
Damon: The master from The Master and Margarita because he is so hopeful, strong, and brilliant. Plus he has this insane devotion to his love and his art that I find irresistible. When I’m in a bad mood, I can read the last moments of his storyline and all is right with the world.
Karen: I have way too many favorite couples to narrow it down to one or even a handful, but since you mentioned shipping… if I were to pretend a couple gets to stay together I’d have Rose move over on that goddamned door to make room for Jack at the end of Titanic. Whenever I rewatch that movie I stop before that scene so I can make believe that’s what happened. (“I reject your reality and substitute my own!”)
Santino: Okay… my OTP will never be realized, but it’s Daryl and Carol in The Walking Dead. Yes, yes, I know. Their cute flirtation went completely off the rails at some point, and now she’s too hardcore for him, but it was perfect! *shakes fit at the TV gods* My current OTP is Jessica and Trish from Jessica Jones. I know who Jessica ends up with in the comics, but the actors have some serious chemistry.
Damon’s answer: Wait…Everyone has a favorite couple? I don’t even slightly. I don’t have a favorite song or a favorite meal, so I could hardly box my love for the entire romantic narrative into one storyline: I love Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion) for their patience and masochism. I love Cyrano and Roxanne (Cyrano de Bergerac) for their blindness and grandeur. I love Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton (Romancing the Stone) for their shameless pulpy appeal. I love Linda Seton and Johnny Case (Holiday) for their bite and wisdom. I love Mathilde Donnay and Mannech (A Very Long Engagement by Japrisot) for their humor and impossible optimism in the face of devastation. But each of those stories hits me differently at different times, I could never just boil it all down to one option.
Darcy or Wentworth?
(bonus: who’s your favorite Darcy or Wentworth on screen?)
Karen: Darcy. (Colin Firth…although I prefer him as Mark Darcy.)
Santino: Darcy! Because I always get Darcy’d by guys (I love you even though you’re a hot mess etc). And I still prefer Matthew Macfadyen.
Damon: Wentworth. (Ciaran Hinds… pitch perfect casting)
Christian or Gideon?
Damon: Gideon Cross.
Rochester or Heathcliff?
Santino: Heathcliff. Wide Sargasso Sea and The Madwoman in the Attic changed the way I view Rochester.
Damon: Rochester…who doesn’t keep something in the attic?
Spock or Kirk?
Karen: Kirk (Shatner for entertainment value, Pine for…a different type of entertainment value)
Santino: Kirk. I’m also on the Chris Pine boat.
Damon: Kirk…and I’m Chris Pine for that. Shatner is too silly.
Sunrise or sunset?
Karen: Sunset (that’s around the time of day my brain finally wakes up)
Santino: Sunrise. Sunset causes panic because I realize the day is over and I’ve gotten nothing done.
Damon: Sunrise… my best writing time is wee hours so that first kiss of light always feels like a benediction.
Angst or humor?
Karen: Both. I love moments of humor peppered into the angst.
Santino: Angst… if there’s an optimistic ending.
Damon: Angst. Suffering makes for better happy endings.
Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and SantinoHassell.com.
Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She’s also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. She writes novels about love…like real life, only hotter. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and KarenStivali.com.
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.