TNA: Hi, Brandon, thanks for being here with us today. Why don’t we start things off by having you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Brandon: I am thrilled to be here! I’m so excited to share the cover of Then the Stars Fall with all of you! About me… about me… CliffsNote version is this— I am a thirty-six year old, five foot five, used to be red-head/now getting grey at the temples, man. I am a teacher working with students with emotional disabilities (think lots of anger/outburst/ aggression/sweetness/innocence, all wrapped up in one). I’ve been writing for over twenty years (with a five year hiatus while I was in reparative therapy—yep, still gay). I am the daddy to two wonderful corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan, who are actually major characters in this new novel. I am an uncle to the most wonderful five-year-old boy in the entire world. And I am so grateful to finally be living my dream of being a writer. So wonderful!
TNA: You’ve written both Fantasy and, for lack of a better term, realistic contemporary fiction. Do you have a preference between the two? Is one genre more creatively satisfying than the other? If so, which and why?
Brandon: You know, I don’t think I can choose, actually. I read much more fantasy than I do anything else, but I love writing both. Contemporary fiction, although it is still fiction, is such a therapeutic process for me. The fantasy series allows me to go places I could never go, both in terms of possibilities and to such dark recesses of the human psyche (in the form of non-humans). The process of writing Then the Stars Fall was the most intense writing I have ever done, in terms of the process itself. I wrote the entire thing in a little less than two months (while I was teaching full time). I quit working out, gained twenty pounds, and completely lost myself to Travis and Wesley. Thank God I have a patient boyfriend, as even when I wasn’t writing, I was never really able to pull myself out of this novel. It was both a relief when I was finished, and a lonely feeling to step away from such an intense ‘relationship.’
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your new book Then the Stars Fall, since that’s why we have you here with us today. Your MC, Travis Bennett, is a widower with three children. What is it that you find most romantic about the idea of a man getting a second chance at love?
Brandon: Remember how I said writing is therapeutic… well, I thought I was going to marry a man several years ago (which you can follow through some of the events of Submerging Inferno, as he left me while I was in the middle of that book). While I wasn’t in a relationship with a woman, like Travis, I have experienced a lot of death in my life. As possibility over-dramatic as it sounds, going through that particular break-up felt like going through another death, but this time, I was one of the ones that died. The future I’d planned, who I’d become with him, etc. As humbling as it is to admit that a breakup shattered me (I’d fancied myself a strong person up until that point), I had to rebuild my life. A life that I love even more this side of things. In addition, after pulling myself back together, I found love again too. I suppose what I find the most romantic about second chances is that they are actually possible.
TNA: Wesley Ryan is the new vet in town. Would you say he and Travis are a perfect match made in heaven, or are they more an opposites attract couple? What would you say makes up the basis of their chemistry?
Brandon: Sigh… That’s a bad question for someone who doesn’t really consider himself a romantic. LOL! I would say neither. They are two men who have an attraction, but both have lived a lot of life, gone through a lot of hurts, and know that, ultimately, love is a choice. To me, that choice, much more than any destiny or fate, is true romance.
TNA: Given that answer, I’m going to ask you a deep, philosophical question now: do you believe we’re at the mercy of fate, destiny, chance—whatever word you’d like to use—or do you think we have a more deliberate control over meeting that special someone and falling in love?
Brandon: I believe in both. I’m a Gemini. I’m allowed to contradict myself. I do believe paths cross and that some things are meant to be. However, even those things meant to be aren’t guaranteed. I also don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I used to, and at times wish I still did. We have to work our asses off, even for the things that are meant to be. Whether it’s a publishing contract or a lasting relationship. And, while we can’t control everything, or everybody around us, I do believe that our destiny is ultimately in our hands. At least to a very large degree.
TNA: Here’s another deep and philosophical question for you: Travis works as a ranch hand. What is it you that you personally find extra sexy about cowboys?
Brandon: I’m attracted to hard work, to people that fight for what they want, for what they believe is right or true. As strange as it sounds, even if I don’t like a person or their choices, I can respect them if they are passionate, committed, and sink their teeth in like a bulldog and never give up. That is damn sexy.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about this gorgeous cover of yours. Who’s the artist? Did you have a lot of input in the way it came together? What do you love most about it?
Brandon: Anne Cain is the artist. She’s done all my covers thus far. She’s my goddess. I have a lot of initial input, but then it is out of my hands for a long time. I don’t really see a draft or know what direction she’s going to go. On this cover, I gave a few guidelines and told her about the story, and let her do her thing. I love the simple beauty of the cover, and the hints of symbolism it contains—from the stars barely visible, to the darkness hidden in the clouds. I LOVE what she did with the title. While the barn is not actually in the book (there are more than one barn in Then the Stars Fall, but not this particular one), the cover really captures the story, I believe. It’s not a typical m/m romance (don’t you wish you had a nickel every time you heard that one?). My hope is that it is a character study of human nature, of grief and hope, and that parts will feel like poetry, like you’re reading a painting. Anne captured that.
TNA: Are you the sort of author who needs to have a mental image of your characters in his head before you begin writing a book?
Brandon: I do a ton, a TON, of planning before I start writing. Each character has pages devoted to their attributes, histories, family trees, on and on and on. Often, a lot of it never makes it into the book; however, those details still change and affect the characters and how they exist in their world. However, even with all of that, it is rare that I have a perfectly clear picture of their face. Given a line up of photos, it would be easier to point at the ones they are not, as opposed to who they are.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit about any works-in-progress we can look forward too?
Brandon: You bet! In October, just in time for GRL, some other authors and I did an erotic anthology set at a writing conference. That official announcement is coming up any day now…
The phenomenal artist, Catherine Dair, and I are collaborating on a children’s book, The Corgi Chronicles. Sooooo excited!!! Been dreaming of this for years!
I also have two short stories coming out in 2015, one in a benefit for Eric and TJ, and then a short Men of Myth story. After that, I have a young adult trilogy to write, and then I’m diving back in for several more books in the Men of Myth series.
TNA: And share with us all the places we can find you on the internet.
TNA: I’d like to shift gears for a second and bring your guys into the interview. Brandon, would you mind inviting them into the room?
**Travis and Wesley enter**
TNA: Hey, guys, welcome to The Novel approach.
I just asked Brandon how he felt about the cover of your book. How about you? Do you think the cover does a good job of representing your life? What’s your favorite thing about the cover?
Travis: I was relieved when I saw it, actually. I was afraid they were gonna put some uppity shit on the cover or some shirtless guy with a six pack. The only six-pack I’ve had in the past twenty years comes from a brewery. I will say, the cover is a little fancy for my taste, though I’d never let my barn get in that condition. It looks like a painting that should be hanging in a museum or something. Trust me, after working with the buffalo all day, the last thing I look like is something that would be found in fancy pants museum.
Wesley: I should have gone first. It was all I could do to get Travis to consider this book. The fact that he has anything good to say about it at all is a miracle. I, for one, think it’s perfect. Travis’s barn or not, the artist captured the aspect of El Dorado Springs I love the most, why I moved there. You’re just more at peace, more whole, you know? Just looking at that cover, I can hear the toads signing in the pond that’s somewhere out of the frame. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood in a field watching the clouds billow over the huge sky and felt so small yet so protected all at the same time. I guess, to me, it just looks like home.
TNA: Guys, how do you feel about Brandon telling your story? Is it a little intimidating, scary, or no biggie? What’s your favorite part of the book?
Travis: I’ve said it millions of times, it makes no sense why any body would wanna read our story to begin with. I sell cattle feed, my dog and I herd buffalo, and I deal with a lot of emotional shit that I’d rather keep private. There’s no aliens or vampires or monsters to make it exciting.
Wesley: You’re kind of an ogre.
Travis: Shut up.
Wesley: Never mind him. He could save the lives of a busload of kids and still tell you that he isn’t anything special. Honestly, I think we were both intimidated to have our story told. It’s one thing to live it, it’s hard enough to live it, but to have to go back and see it all in black and white, every bad choice, every moment of insecurity… that’s heavy stuff. However, after reading it, I have to say that it made me even more thankful for what we have. It didn’t come easy, but, we’re so very thankful for it.
TNA: Do you think you guys could talk Brandon into sharing an excerpt from the book with us?
Wesley: You bet. Maybe our first kiss. I got all teary when I read that part. Felt like I was reliving it all over again.
Travis: Hell no. We are not having them read about our first kiss.
Wesley: They’re gonna ready about it when they get the book anyway.
Travis: Nope. Don’t care. Not sharing that right now. How about something a little more fun, like when you accidently went out on your porch naked? I love that scene! Wish I would’ve been there to see it in person.
Wesley: Seriously? We can’t share our first kiss, but we can tell them about me being naked?
Travis: Fine. How about when we first met?
Wesley: Sure, though you were kind of stressed.
Travis: Then how about when you were naked on—
Wesley: Fine! Yes, let’s show them our first meeting.
Excerpt: “He’s just a dog, Bennett! Get a hold of yourself.”
At the deep sound of his master’s voice, the dog lifted his head from where it rested against the door handle and craned his neck to look across the cab of the truck.
“Just a goddamned dog,” Travis Bennett muttered to himself, attempting to ignore the burn of his constricting throat. He wiped his calloused hand roughly across both of his cheeks, the scratch of his stubble loud in his ears. He spared a glance from the road as he pulled his hand away. Dry. No tears. Their absence wasn’t a surprise, but it almost disappointed him nonetheless. “Just a dog.”
With a spray of gravel and a harsh lurch, the truck hit a pothole in the middle of the road. Instinctively, Travis’s right hand shot out and steadied the dog, keeping him from tumbling to the floor of the cab. The dog let out a long groan but remained firmly in the divotted spot he’d occupied for years.
The site of the dog made Travis flinch. With a cursory glance at the rearview mirror, he pulled the truck over to the side of the road, keeping his foot on the brake. “Ah, Dunk. Buddy, I’m so sorry.” He reached out and stroked the swollen left side of his dog’s face. Even in the half hour since Travis had woken up, the dog’s face had nearly doubled in size. His left eye was completely swollen shut. He was unrecognizable. If it weren’t for the reddish auburn fur and white muzzle, Travis wouldn’t believe it was his dog. Even so, the dog pushed his face against Travis’s hand, burrowing closer.
“Sorry, Dunk. I didn’t mean it. You’re not just a dog. You’re gonna be fine. Just fine.” Without looking over his shoulder, Travis let off the brake and pulled back out onto the dirt road. His eyes burned. He swiped at them again.
He didn’t look back at the dog again for the remainder of the ten-minute drive, only muttered words of comfort to his old friend.
“We’re almost there, buddy. Soon. You’ll be good as new by tomorrow.”
Words uttered out of fear.
“It won’t be anything serious. You’re in good health. Shit, you were chasin’ buffalo yesterday; can’t be serious.”
Some that weren’t spoken.
I can’t do this. I won’t. The kids can’t go through this again. It isn’t fair. I can’t do it again.
Travis had barely pulled onto the blacktop parking lot before slamming the truck into park, hopping out, and rushing to the passenger side. He refused to look at his dog’s face as he swept the forty-five-pound ball of fuzz into his arms. “We’re here. The vet’s gonna make you all better.”
He only made it a few feet from the truck when the dog began to thrash. “Goddammit, Dunk, you’re gonna make me drop you.” Still the dog squirmed, looking like a seal caught in a net. Travis knelt on one knee and placed the dog on the ground. He shook, as if attempting to dust away the indignity of being carried, causing his mass of fur to puff out to an even greater degree.
Despite the pain the swelling had to be causing, the dog trotted beside Travis, tiny legs hidden under his hair. If it weren’t for his waddle, he could have almost pulled off the illusion he was floating. Even his floppy ears shuffled back and forth as they closed the last few feet to the vet.
The scent of cleaner and medicine stung Travis’s nose as he opened the door for his dog to walk through. He hated it. Though different, it was too similar to the sanitized stench of a hospital.
“Cheryl!” Travis tried to ignore the tinge of panic his yell betrayed as he crossed the small veterinary office. Leaning over the glass counter, he tried to see down the narrow hallway. “Thanks for comin’ in so early on a Sunday morning. I sure appreciate it.”
A door closed somewhere in the back, and the clip of shoes sounded on tile. Travis glanced down at his feet, trying to force his heart to slow. The dog gazed up at him, his tailless butt wagging in his typical adoration of Travis. When Travis looked back up, he flinched at the man standing across the counter. “You’re not Cheryl.”
The man let out an easy laugh. “Nope. Not Cheryl.” He stuck out his hand. “Dr. Ryan. You must be Mr. Bennett. Nice to meet you.”
Travis paused before extending his own hand to return the greeting. He didn’t have time to waste meeting people. “Cheryl’s not here yet?”
“No. She’s not coming in. She called and let me know you were coming. I was already here trying to get stuff ready for an appointment tomorrow. She’s not used to having me around yet. She said she’d try to call you back and let you know I’d be the one to meet you.”
Travis patted the front pocket of his jeans. “I guess I left my cell at home. I was kinda in a hurry.” For the first time he really looked at the man in front of him. Tall, taller than him, at any rate. Lean, with dirty-blond hair, and probably in his thirties. “You’re an… assistant or something?”
“No. I’m a real veterinarian.” He motioned back down the hallway, pointing at something Travis couldn’t see. “Got the degree on the wall for proof if you need to see it.”
Travis just narrowed his eyes in response. New doctors were never good; they messed up. Didn’t care about patients other doctors had taken care of.
“Mr. Bennett, if you want to go get your dog, I can take a look at him. Cheryl said that there was some facial swelling….”
Travis looked at the vet like he was an imbecile and motioned toward his feet. “He’s right here.”
The vet peered over the counter, meeting the dog’s eyes as he turned to look up at him. “A corgi. A fluffy corgi at that! I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.” He glanced back up at Travis, then back toward the dog.
Travis knew the expression. People always gave him that questioning look when they first realized the short compact dog belonged with the tank of a man.
“Sorry, Mr. Bennett. I didn’t have a chance to look him up in the system before you got here. I’ll do that real quick before we take him back, just get a glimpse at his history. But before that, let me take a look at the little guy.”
Travis bristled at the comment. He hated when people made comments about his dog’s size, or how he looked like a redheaded mop as his long fur dragged on the ground. Though short, the dog was nearly fifty pounds and spent several hours a week herding buffalo just for the fun of it. He wasn’t a damned Chihuahua or toy poodle or anything.
The vet was already around the counter and kneeling beside the dog, allowing Dunk to sniff the back of his hand before gently scratching the top of his head. “Ouch, that looks painful, little guy.”
“Dunkyn. His name’s Dunkyn.”
The vet didn’t even look up, directing all his attention toward the dog. “Good Scottish name, or Irish maybe. Corgis always have the best names.”
Dunkyn’s butt began to wiggle twice as fast at the attention.
“So, can we take him back and do some tests or whatever to find out what’s going on with him?” There was that damned strain in his voice.
The vet must have noticed it too. He stood and quickly returned behind the counter to the computer. After a few short keystrokes, he looked up at Travis with a cocked brow. “Two T’s in Bennett?”
“Ah, there. There’s a couple of you Bennetts in town. You don’t look like a Wendy. You must be Travis or Caleb.”
“Travis. Caleb is my son. He’s got his own dog, Dolan. He’s a corgi as well.”
“See? Corgi’s have the best names.” A few more keystrokes, then another cocked eyebrow. “Dunkyn, spelled with a Y. That’s unusual.”
Travis felt his face flush. “Yeah. My wife’s idea.”
The vet glanced back at the screen. “Wendy, I take it.”
“Nope. That’s my sister.”
The vet waited for more explanation, but when none came, he returned his attention once more to the computer, making a few clicking noises with his tongue, brown eyes flitting back and forth as he read across the screen. “Looks like Dunkyn’s all up to date on everything. He’s about ten years old. Ten is up there, but not too concerning for a Corgi.” He motioned for Travis and Dunkyn to follow. “Let’s head on back to the examination room.”
In all, it was less than fifty feet around the counter and back down the hallway, but Travis’s feet were made of lead, each step more laden than the next. Each one a step closer to bad news, to death. Heart monitors beeped in his ears. The tang of anesthetics wrinkled his nose. Empty platitudes echoed in his mind.
He could see the indent of a head on the pillow, strands of long red hair caught in the folds of the fabric.
Dr. Cahill’s voice sounded in a whispered shout, I’m sorry, Mr. Bennett, there’s nothing else—
“Huh?” The veterinary office snapped back into focus. The vet stood in the doorway of the exam room, a hand outstretched, suspended between them, nearly close enough to touch him. “Sorry, Dr…. Uhm….”
“Dr. Ryan. You can just call me Wesley if you want. Everyone does.”
Travis nodded absentmindedly and looked past the vet to where Dunkyn was sniffing around a metal chair in the room. Continuing his never-ending hunt for forgotten food, as if nothing were wrong.
“Are you okay, Mr. Bennett?”
This time Travis met the man’s eyes, straightening his spine to his full five foot, ten inches. Still a couple inches shorter than the vet. “Yeah. Can you take a look at Dunkyn now?”
Dr. Ryan opened his mouth as if to inquire some more, then, to his credit, reconsidered. He turned, walked over to Dunkyn, and knelt on the floor, closer to the dog’s level. He ran his hands over the dog’s long body, nimble fingers moving with graceful confidence.
“Dunkyn is in great shape, Mr. Bennett. A little chunky maybe, but he’s got excellent muscle tone and is as strong as a dog four times his height. You must walk him a lot.”
Travis gave a vindicated grunt. Not such a little guy after all. “He goes everywhere with me. Dunk’s favorite thing, besides eating, is heading out to the ranch and chasing the buffalo.”
The vet glanced up, his brow seemingly caught in a quizzical position. “Buffalo?”
Travis couldn’t suppress a pride-filled grin. “Yeah. He loves it. Caleb’s dog, Dolan, is too crazy to do any good, but they all know Dunkyn’s the boss as soon as he shows up.”
“I’ve heard of corgis herding sheep and cows, but that’s a first. Buffalo.” He turned back to the dog, then looked up at Travis again. “Are those the buffalo out by Carman Road? I can’t imagine there are more buffalo than that in a town the size of El Dorado.”
Dr. Ryan nodded appreciatively. “They’re beautiful animals. Your house is fairly impressive as well.”
“Oh, no. They’re not my buffalo. I’m just a hired hand for Mr. Walker. I don’t live there. I live out on….” His voice trailed off, suddenly unsure why he was giving any details to this stranger. He motioned toward the aluminum examination table on the other side of the room. “Want me to lift Dunk up there for ya?”
The vet shook his head. “No, I don’t like doing that unless we absolutely have to. Most dogs don’t like being on something so far off the ground. If you just want to join us down here, that would be great. Maybe hold him while I try to look in his mouth and see if we can figure out what’s causing the swelling. You told Cheryl, uhm, Dr. Fisher, that you first noticed it this morning, correct?”
“Yep.” Travis sat down on the floor, his back against the wall. Dunkyn waddled over to him, plopped down between his legs and rested his head on Travis’s lap with a satisfied grunt. Travis scratched the red fur on top of Dunkyn’s head, then put both hands on either side of the corgi’s body and turned him around to face the vet. With his long hair splayed out around him as he was spun over the floor, he really did look like a mop.
Dr. Ryan knelt on both knees in front of Dunk and Travis. The room stayed silent as he inspected Dunkyn’s ears, eyes, heartbeat, and temperature. Dunkyn groaned uncomfortably at the insertion of the thermometer into his rectum, offering the doctor a condemning glare, but otherwise putting up no resistance.
The dog whimpered when Dr. Ryan inspected his teeth. He tried to flinch away, but Travis had his head cradled between his hands. The vet’s gaze didn’t leave Dunkyn as he continued his inspection. “Any chance Dunkyn had some sort of impact to his face? Herding buffalo could be a pretty dangerous game. Of course, I would assume if there were any injury from one of them, there’d be a lot more trauma than a swollen face.”
It took a moment for Travis to answer. Longer than it should have. When he did speak, he had to stop, clear his throat, and start over. “No. He’s always with me. Nothing’s happened, not so much as a yelp of pain. It’s not an injury.” The vet’s gaze flicked up, the concern in his brown eyes making a shot of irritation jut through Travis. “Can we just do some tests and find out what’s going on with my dog?”
A soothing hand stroked over the smooth side of Dunkyn’s face as Dr. Ryan inspected Travis. “Is there something specific you’re worried might be wrong, Mr. Bennett?”
“His face swelled overnight. There’s gotta be a growth or tumor or something.” Travis preferred the anger he heard in his words now. Much better than the quavering weakness. The answering smile that appeared made him want to smash a fist into the vet’s face.
“Actually, I’m not concerned about that at all. Growths don’t normally appear that quickly. If you’re certain that you haven’t noticed a gradual swelling, I’d say the chance of it being cancer is one of the last things I’m worried about.”
The anger swept out of Travis, leaving in it’s place the kernel of hope. He would rather have the anger. Again his throat constricted. “Yeah?”
Another fucking smile. “Yeah. There’s some sort of infection, which should be easy enough to take care of. When I was inspecting Dunkyn’s gums, I could smell it. You’d be able to as well, if you got your nose down here. My guess is there’s a dental issue. Maybe a cracked root or abscess. I’ll have to do X-rays to be sure, but that’s almost always what these signs indicate. I’m not concerned about cancer at all.”
Travis’s eyes burned. He knew there were no tears, but it felt like there were. He pulled Dunkyn closer to him. The dog grunted, and Travis released his grip some.
“It’s just a simple operation, and the little guy will be as good as new in no time.” The vet smiled.
Travis pulled the dog tighter, this time ignoring Dunkyn’s protest. “No. No surgery. What else can we do?”
Confusion crossed the vet’s expression. Clearly he’d thought this had been good news. He looked at the dog held tightly in his arms. “Well, we can try antibiotics to kill the infection. If that’s all it is, then that will take care of it. However, if a root is cracked or something is wrong with Dunkyn’s teeth, the infection will keep coming back and be more detrimental if nothing is done. If it comes back, he really needs the surgery. Again, I’d need to do X-rays, but I’ve seen this enough that I’m nearly one hundred percent certain what’s going on, and I think he requires surgery.”
Travis shook his head emphatically. “No. Absolutely not. No surgery.”
“Mr. Bennett. There’s no real concern with an operation such as this. It’s very routine and Dr. Fisher will be there with me. Dunkyn will be in the very best of hands. He’ll feel much better after.”
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED