GENRE TALK with Carole Cummings
Hey, all! Lisa went and left the door unlocked again, so here I am! And I’ve dragged fellow DSPP author A.J. Marcus with me to
leave cigar burns in Lisa’s furniture and drink all her beer talk about Mystery! (As in: who left cigar burns in Lisa’s couch and drank all her beer?!) And Suspense! (As in: will Lisa kill Carole with the candlestick, the rope or the poison?!)
Silliness aside, A.J. was kind enough to take the time to talk about his new release, Eagle’s Blood (Mountain Spirits Mysteries Book 1), weather-as-inspiration and the wonders of nature.
Brock Summers is a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer who loves his job and takes it very seriously. When he discovers a video of golden eagles being shot and learns of a nest in trouble, not even a blizzard can stop him from trekking up the mountain in an attempt to rescue them.
When Brock returns with the one eaglet he manages to save, Landon Weir, the local wildlife rehabilitator, patches up the bird and the injury Brock suffered during the rescue. Though they have been friends and colleagues for years, they discover a shared passion for protecting wildlife and vow to work together to protect the majestic birds from the criminals preying on them. It isn’t long before another video of eagles being killed comes to their attention.
They must face inclement weather, a dangerous mountain, and armed poachers if they want to ensure the eagles’—and their own—survival.
Buy links, etc., can be found at the end of this post, so let’s get to the good part.
Carole: Okay, first, why don’t you tell us about your genre.
A.J.: Mystery Suspense can mean a lot of things to different people. To me it’s all about the unknown, and sometimes that’s not exactly the who dunnit so much as the why and having the hero ride in to save the day.
Carole: Why M/M?
A.J.: I write in the gay genre because I think we need more stories for folks to read. It’s also about helping more people find acceptance in themselves and in others. There are a lot of books out there to tell straight folks that they are good and normal, but in the past there haven’t been many books that tell LGBT folks that. I hope that my writing can help with that.
Carole: Tell us about Eagle’s Blood.
A.J.: Eagle’s Blood is the story of two men who bond over their mutual love of nature and their need to care for the creatures that share our world with us.
Carole: Eagle’s Blood is being published through DSPP, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for nonromance genre novels. Tell us about the relationship in Eagle’s Blood and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
A.J.: One of the definitions of a romance novel that I read early on is that if you take out the romance in the book, do you still have a story. If you do, then it’s not really a romance. In Eagle’s Blood, there is a romance aspect to it. Brock and Landon, after knowing each other for several years, are finally making the love connection. But that’s not all the book is about, it’s only a small part of the book as these two try to save eagles from poachers. You can pull out the romance from the book and you still have a riveting, on the edge of your seat, mystery suspense novel that readers have difficulty putting down. I like to think that there are some aspects of Tony Hillerman’s writing as I show the area where I live and the critters that I love in my work the way he shows the Navajo reservation in his. Sometimes with a good mystery the setting is a key element.
Carole: Tell us about the evolution of this story. What was its earliest incarnation as a concept and when did it begin to take the form of Eagle’s Blood?
A.J.: Where this story came from? I get so many ideas that come in from all sorts of directions. I can’t remember the actual spawning of this book. I’ve done wild bird rehabilitation similar to what Landon does. I’m a falconer like Landon is. A few years ago I ran into a completely adorable Parks and Wildlife officer who paid me a visit while I was in the shower and I met him at the door in a towel. He’s much smaller than Brock is; Brock’s a big imposing but loveable guy. I think he was the indirect inspiration for Brock.
The book opens in a blizzard and when I started writing the book, there was a blizzard going on here. I have lots of windows behind my desk, it lets me critter watch while I work. But I was trying to figure out where to start and I decided to start with the blizzard and having Brock go down a cliff. About halfway through the book, I realized that there are a lot of tales I want to tell with these guys. I get some of my ideas from the news, some from friends, which include the Parks and Wildlife officer who comes out to check on my birds every so often and even goes hunting with me from time to time. Hopefully, DSPP will keep publishing these books as I keep getting the guys into lots of trouble as they go out and try to keep our wildlife safe and wild. Not to mention that a common plot that is going to string through all the books is them getting Frigga, the eagle that Brock rescues in the opening scene, ready to go back into the wild.
Carole: Why did you feel this story needed to be told with the M/M dynamic?
A.J.: I think gay readers need to read about characters who are like themselves. Characters who can inspire and help them grow. There will always be gay characters in my books and I hope that most of those characters are going to be examples that folks can look up to. I also hope that by embracing a nonromance genre the mainstream reading audience will embrace the books and maybe, by seeing gay characters who are just like them, it will help demystify what it means to be gay in our society.
Carole: If you had to pick one thing for readers to take away from your work, what would it be?
A.J.: I’m hoping, as I write these books that they will help open people’s eyes to the natural world around them that a lot of people who live in the urban sprawl miss. The natural world right now needs advocates and I hope that by my writing I can lend at least a little bit of knowledge, understanding and love to my readers all wrapped up in a nice package of fast paced adventure.
Carole: That’s pretty awesome, A.J., thank you so much for talking with us!
And now for you, Dear Readers, please enjoy this excerpt from A.J.’s Mystery/Suspense novel, Eagle’s Blood, and look for the buy links down the bottom:
THE FRIGID wind lashed Parks and Wildlife officer Brock Summers as he rappelled down the cliff face. Even his heavy Carhartt coveralls over several thick layers weren’t enough to totally buffer him from the late-spring blizzard blasting against him. It was all he could do to hold on to the rope as he slid toward the eagle nest below him.
“How are you doing?” Dara Silverstein, his backup, asked through the radio.
“Cold,” Brock replied. “But I’m almost there.” Glancing below, he could see the large stick nest in the same place it had rested for many years. Green pine branches poking out of the snow on the nest told him it was in use this year. He didn’t see the customary shape of a brooding eagle. The fears that had driven him to the dangerous climb grew stronger.
“Just be careful,” Dara said. “We don’t even know if this is the right nest.”
“I am being careful.” Brock found the ledge with the tips of his toes. There wasn’t anything to get hold of to steady himself as the wind tried to pull him off the cliff. He struggled to keep his balance for a moment as he took a cautious step toward the nest. There was still no sign of the parent birds. Even in the blizzard, they should’ve appeared as soon as he and Dara approached the cliff. He’d known this pair for several years: most of the time he’d been stationed in Teller County, Colorado. They were extremely aggressive. That was why he wore the big, clunky helmet that provided almost no warmth but would protect him if either of the golden eagles decided to dive-bomb him.
“I’m at the nest,” he said.
“No mother bird,” he replied, digging into the snow with one hand while holding on to his climbing rope with the other. His gloved fingers touched something that didn’t feel like a stick. He carefully uncovered the frozen remains of an eagle chick. “I’ve got one chick, looks to be about three weeks old. Frozen.”
“Damn,” Dara replied.
As Brock lifted the chick aside, something under it moved. He looked closer. A smaller eaglet shivered in the wind that now blasted it. “Got a younger one, alive.” Brock tried to move around so his body would block some of the wind from getting to the little eagle. Next to the tiny one, there was a third chick that wasn’t so lucky. Parts of it were missing.
“Do you need me to lower a basket down?” Dara asked.
“No, there’s just the one,” Brock replied. “I’ll carry it out. Besides, with this wind, I don’t think the basket would be safe.” He pulled his right glove off with his teeth so he could unzip his coveralls and get the jacket under it open. Finally he’d opened all the way down to his T-shirt. The little eagle nipped at him as he picked it up.
Brock chuckled. “Still got some spunk left in you.” The eaglet had a bit of food in its crop. Glancing at the third chick, Brock knew where the food had come from. He tucked the bird against his chest and closed his layered clothing around it. The little ball of fluff moved a couple of times, then settled in to sleep as the warm darkness surrounded it.
With a parting frown at the two chicks that hadn’t survived, Brock moved to the edge of the ledge where he could start back up the cliff face. He didn’t want to upset the actual structure of the nest. Eagles, maybe even the one he currently cradled, might want to use it in the future. It was in a prime location with plenty of prey around.
“Coming up,” he called to Dara as he grabbed the rope and started the long, slippery climb to the top of the cliff.
“Just be careful,” she said. “If anything, the wind up here is getting worse.”
“Don’t tell me that,” Brock replied. “I expect it to be sunny and warm by the time I get up there.” Talking to Dara helped take his mind off the treacherous climb. If he wasn’t talking, he might overthink every part of what he was doing. To make it to the top, he had to relax and let his body do what he did on a regular basis. He’d been climbing cliffs since his teen years. This was just another climb, like hundreds before it.
Dara laughed. “Yeah, I think I can convince myself it’s sunny and warm up here.”
“Hey, at least it’s not as cold as it was a couple of months ago. You know, when we had that stakeout in the blind with the high around zero.” He let his feet find the holds they needed to get up the cliff. It would’ve been so much easier in thinner, flexible shoes, but his feet would’ve been numb from cold before he’d even reached the nest if he’d done that. Even the foot warmers he currently had in his boots wouldn’t have helped.
“There is that. I don’t think I would’ve agreed to help you then. I would’ve made one of the other guys come with you. That elk stakeout was bad enough without wind.”
Brock continued to find the footing he needed. “Yeah, but we got the poachers that time.”
“Yeah, we did.”
Brock’s left foot slipped and threw him off balance. He grabbed hold of the rope to keep from sliding down, but he swung a bit. Deep in his shirt, the eagle moved. Its small, sharp talons tried to find something to cling to. It dug into Brock’s skin.
“What’s wrong?” Dara asked.
“Lost my footing and the little guy decided to hold on to my chest. Glad he’s not much bigger; he could really do some damage.” Finding his footing again, Brock tried to ignore the pain and continue up the cliff face.
“Geez, I thought it was something major. I thought you were Mr. Macho Stud who could handle a little bit of pain now and then.”
“Tell you what,” Brock chuckled. “Let’s have this little guy grab hold of your tit and see what it feels like.”
“Tell him to aim right, and you can have an interesting piercing.”
Brock was getting near enough to the top of the cliff that he could just barely make out what Dara was saying over the wind without the radio. “Nope, don’t really want to get a piercing from an eagle. Although it would make an interesting conversation point to go along with the scar on my ass from that bear.”
Dara laughed. “I think most folks would rather you flash your chest at them than your ass any day.”
Brock cleared the top of the cliff. Dara offered him a hand to steady himself. The wind was worse than it had been down the cliff face.
A.J. Marcus grew up in Texas. He’s always had a fascination with cowboys, comic books and the great outdoors. He started writing in high school and at times spent more time writing than he did reading, and he’s a voracious reader. Maybe it was growing up in Texas, but his love of rugged men showed up even before he realized what was going on. He likes his men manly, hard, tough and caring, men with hearts, and other parts, as big as Texas.
A.J. currently lives near Colorado Springs, Colorado with his loving partner and several horses. The men here are still men.
Next time on Genre Talk: John Inman talks Horror!