Darien Cox popped my cherry.
My m/m cherry, that is. Yes, prior to his work, I’d never m/m romance, but having worked with Cox his wonderful SF hetero erom debut, Fluid Motion (for reals, go read, because it’s delicious and fun with characters I adored), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work on future books that were all m/m. And since then I’ve worked with Darien as an artist and an editor for nearly two years, and it was a thrill to see his work pay off when Seducing Professor Coyle took off last September. The streak continued when his sixth book, Criminal Pleasures, exploded on the m/m scene in November, and now we have Guys on Top.
It’s a non-traditional romance, a character-driven piece that defies reader expectations, and a must read for anyone looking for a well-written m/m that’s definitely out of the box. Below the blurb you’ll find a Q&A with Darien about his new release as well as a chance to win an eBook from his backlist.
Doug Crandall’s perfect suburban life imploded after his boyfriend’s betrayal and a subsequent lawsuit left him personally and financially devastated. A year later, with a new place in the city and a fresh outlook, he’s back on his feet and ready to start over. Eager to lose his cynicism and heal his battered heart, he immerses himself in the local social scene, which includes a pair of charismatic men engaged in an open relationship. As Doug finds himself becoming emotionally and sexually entangled in their lives, he’s forced to reevaluate his views on fidelity, betrayal, love, and the often calamitous price of happiness.
Guys On Top is very different from your previous novels. What inspired you to write about the somewhat risky topic of open relationships?
I knew I was taking a chance covering this topic because of the subject matter. But I’ve known many people who’ve been in similar situations, and decided it was something worth exploring. I have a very close friend whose been in a committed relationship with his boyfriend for years, but when they first met, his boyfriend was in an open relationship with two other men. I found this fascinating, and one nosy afternoon I asked if he’d share his feelings on those early days when they met, how it went down, how he felt about it at the time. He was kind enough to share details regarding his insecurities initially – the jealousy that lingered for a while after they got together, wondering if his new love would eventually decide one man wasn’t enough, since he’d come from such a completely different, non-monogamous situation. That conversation and others I had with friends gave me the fodder I needed to start the story. I wanted to make it a fun experience, but I also wanted to treat the subject matter with respect. I tried very hard to keep an unbiased balance and show both sides of the coin. I didn’t want to present either monogamy or open relationships as ‘the right’ choice. Because in the end the only right choice is what’s right for the individuals involved.
Doug is very conflicted internally as a character, going back and forth regarding his decision to accept Stewart’s attentions and his feeling that it’s wrong somehow. How did you determine his motivation for the decisions he makes?
Doug’s at a place in his life where he’s learning to accept change, and that the life we have in mind for ourselves isn’t always what we get. After his ideas of what his life is ‘supposed’ to be like are shattered, he’s forced to open his mind to new things, and that’s one of the reason he tries to accept Stewart and Corey’s situation, though part of him rejects it completely. But he’s ultimately motivated by his feelings for Stewart. Falling in love is one of the most out of control experiences we can have as human beings. We’re wired for it, all those lusty chemicals clouding our brains, often a battle between what the body wants, what the heart wants, and what the logical mind tells you is the right thing to do. It’s easy to stand on the outside of that and decide ‘Dude, you’re playing with fire, stop now.’ But when you’re in it, being carried away by that hurricane of feelings, it’s a gamble which side is gonna win out, and sometimes the call of the heart is too strong to fight.
Corey’s character is described as ‘larger than life’. He provides a lot of comic relief. How did you come up with Corey’s character and what purpose do you think he serves in the story?
Corey is actually based on someone I know – and that someone knows I exploited his personality in this book- but I won’t out him! I think we’ve all had that friend who possesses that certain glow, a magnetic power that makes them stand out in a crowd, and makes people want to be near them, to have a little piece of it for themselves. Of course with Corey I took it to the next level, making him a self-proclaimed healer, accentuating his ‘magical’ qualities. But when someone has that otherworldly vibe, it’s easy to forget that they’re real, and have their own emotions and personal pain. With Corey, Doug is forced to look beyond his prejudices and learn there’s often more to what we see on the surface. Corey is also the obstacle wedged between Doug and his desire for Stewart. Not only because Corey is Stewart’s boyfriend, but because he’s everything Doug is not, and therefore makes him question himself, and if he alone will ever be enough.
Without giving away spoilers, all of the characters in the story end up in a very different place than they started out. But despite all the chaos and upending of lives, there’s a sense of hopefulness in the end. Was there a message there or were you just aiming for happily ever after for the sake of the story?
I guess one message is that life can really screw with you, and things are going to happen that make you feel like you’ve lost everything, that you simply don’t have the strength to start over, much less be hopeful about the future. But short of crawling into a hole until you die, there’s really no other choice but to dust yourself off and try again – but it can take WORK. The other message is that no one is immune to falling in love, no matter what their situation. It’ll sneak up and grab you by the balls when you’re not looking. Despite this being the key to all romance stories—the fantasy of love coming along and knocking you on your ass—how the character handles it is what makes it interesting. There’s a reality to it that everyone can relate to, no matter how different we all are.
Do you think some readers will be unsettled by the subject matter of Guys On Top, since it steps outside the lines of a conventional romance story? Do you read your reviews?
I certainly considered that before publishing it, which is why I included the open relationship aspect in the cover blurb. I wanted people to know what they were getting into if they picked up this book. That might have backfired on me in a few cases, as some feedback I’ve gotten is that people expected it to be more of a straight on ménage story. But so far the response has been incredibly positive. I try not to spend too much time reading reviews because it keeps me locked in the mindset of this book rather than what I should be doing, which is write the next one! But people send me review links a lot, and I always read those. I have wonderful, intelligent readers, and am grateful they’ve been willing to trust me to take them off the beaten path with Guys On Top.
Can you give us any hints of what you have in store for your next book?
My plan is to take it down to the beach for the next one, since summer is coming and I’m in that kind of mood. But I’ve been having so much fun doing the city settings as in Criminal Pleasures and Guys On Top, it’s been a tough call! But none of my books ever turn out exactly the way I plan initially, so I’m banking on the hope that the new characters will come to life and let me know what they want. And that’s all another way to say I have no clue yet! But I hope to gain one soon.
Thank you for dropping by, Darien!
Now, for the giveaway. You have a week to enter, and lots of ways to get entries. Leave a comment, ask Darien a question, follow on Twitter, Tweet the giveaway. Have at it! Winner will be randomly drawn to win their choice of ANY eBook from Darien’s backlist (I believe the format choices are MOBI, PDF, EPUB, so there’s something for every ereader). That includes Fluid Motion, Body Surf, Cameraman, Edges, Seducing Professor Coyle, or Criminal Pleasures.
Darien Cox lives in New England, bouncing back and forth between the mountain and the ocean states, anywhere there’s a wave or a ski slope. A nature lover and thrill seeker, he enjoys exploring the intensity, insanity, humor and chaos that accompanies cupid’s arrow, whether it’s love at first sight or just the overwhelming power of lust. Mystery, thriller, and paranormal elements are occasionally tossed in to further spice up the mix, because let’s face it—sometimes the world is not enough.