Every writer faces it at some point: the prospect of writing the sequel to a popular book.
I’ve been writing for a few years now and have well over 30 titles, but An Uncommon Whore struck a chord with readers. They loved the characters, the romance and the story. When I finished the book and sent it to the editor I knew there would be a sequel, but set it to the side. On occasion, I’d pick it up and try to write the story, but generally something else came along or I simply couldn’t come up with a story that felt right.
One of the problems I struggled with was the fact that every person in the book suffered. The people of Arash were invaded, conquered and exiled to a small desert planet. Helios had been tortured, raped and sold into slavery. Griffin and his children experienced horrors. While tragedy doesn’t make for light romance, I found myself unable to turn away from the consequences of their hardships.
Tragedy and suffering are staples in romance, particularly m/m romance. The question is, how much is too much, and how lightly can you treat a serious subject without trivializing it?
In the first book, Helios had a light voice. He rarely took anything too seriously, including himself. If he told this story, it’s highly unlikely that his character would be able or willing to show the progress that his character makes over the span of the story arc. On the other hand, Griffin knows him on levels that Helios is unaware of. He can see the evolution of Helios’ character. What Griffin is blind to is his own pain; his own need to progress as a man.
In order to show the evolution of Helios, Griffin had to tell the story. In order to be realistic with the consequences of the Landaun invasion, I had to send the characters into dark places. As one reader says, Griffin is not a happy man. Does that make him a bad man? No, he’s in the process of recovering his life. He’s finally experiencing grief and grappling with all the bad stuff he’s shoved to the side. Griffin’s journey isn’t pleasant, but for the purpose of the series, he needs to take that walk in the dark.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a wicked, deceptive affliction. I believe strongly that every character in the story suffers from it. However they all cope differently. I’ve had a couple traumatic events in my life and one of my more distressing symptoms is sensory flashbacks: I smell burnt rubber, hear the phantom impact of colliding autos. As Helios continues to develop, he has a very Taoist approach to his past. He knows he can’t change things, so he processes and accepts. He’s water. Griffin doesn’t like feeling weak, so he shoves everything away, letting his pain simmer. He has nightmares. He’s short-tempered and suspicious. To make it worse, he has no idea that he’s having a meltdown. In the end, Griffin reaches a level of self-awareness he’d never had experienced without the pain he experiences.
At their heart, the Coalition stories (Belle Starr, An Uncommon Whore, etc.) are space opera. The heart of these books is in action and adventure. They are bawdy, sometimes raunchy and a lot of fun. While I had to honor the trauma the Hawkes and the Daysprings experienced, the story also had to take off and fly.
This story was tough for me as an author, but I suspect its challenging for the reader as well. I can only say I’m incredibly grateful to the readers who stick with me as I continue to take the people of Neo Domus out into space. There are certainly more tortured heroes to abuse, and some amazing and wonderful aliens waiting in the wings. (Somian twins, anyone?) Of course, Helios and Griffin are the backbone of the series and certainly have a bit more of their own journey to complete.
To find out more about Belinda and her books, please visit her webpage at:
Or her blog: http://www.belindam.blogspot.com
As king, Helios Dayspring is desperate to secure the future of his people and their new homeworld. His memories are slowly returning, bringing with them danger and betrayal.
As the king’s consort, Griffin Hawke wrestles with growing isolation from his lover. As Helios’ secrets begin to come to light, he finds that he barely recognizes his lover anymore. Griffin is also haunted by his own secrets, as nightmares bring torture and death to his sleep.
When Helios and Griffin undertake a dangerous journey on behalf of their people, everything they fought for could be lost. Surrounded by enemies and allies, seductive aliens and dangerous operatives, Helios and Griffin find themselves tested to their physical and moral limits. Not knowing who to trust, they can only turn to each other.
Will you be there to catch me when I fall?
Still on my knees, I pulled out and turned away, angry and afraid at my reaction. Helios did not move from where I left him. I rolled wearily to the soft pillows, my back to him. As my straining heart began to slow, the final rays of sunset slipped way, anchoring us in darkness.
“The dreams started about a month ago. One of the kilij forms…it played over and over in my mind. In my dream, the form translated to words. Poetry. Verses that I am forbidden to say out loud.” He stirred, and I sensed that he was cleaning himself. “From the time I was a child, there was no question of my ever inheriting. Nor would Deirdre…or Markus.”
I knew the traditions of inheritance within the royal family. While the crown didn’t necessarily go to the oldest child, it stayed in the immediate family. Alexander was Helios’s firstborn, but if he felt it was necessary, he could name Deirdre his heir -- or even one of my daughters once he formally adopted them. He and Markus had been distant spares in the game of king making. Only catastrophe could have landed one of them on the throne.
“Though I would never become king, I was trained for royal service. As a tiny child, I learned my first kilij form. That was my induction into the temple.”
“So even when we were in the army together, you knew? You knew they’d call you back to serve the temple?” I could hear the harsh pain in my voice. That wasn’t the question that burned inside me. Helios knew what I was really asking.
“It is the way of our culture for young soldiers to take lovers from within the ranks. We fight bravely when we fight to impress our lover.” He paused, and I could imagine the gentle smile on his face. “But we both knew when we came to adulthood, we’d be expected to end our relationship and marry. That was our duty. Both the king and the temple expected me to marry strategically.”
“Your wife ran from you because it was discovered she was spying on us. In reality…”
“My marriage to Cloris was politics. Not espionage. I did not take advantage of her. You are correct; I was a handler. I had a string of operatives who reported to me. Ironically I was chosen for that role because of my memory. Handlers must remember everything and leave no evidence. The war shattered those networks, and my enslavement left many men and women cut off from our people. They are so anonymous that even with our coded records, we are only beginning to resume contact with some of them.”
He rolled to his side and looked at me soberly. “What I am learning frightens and humbles me, Griffin.”
I sat up and shook my head. “The temple schools… We always laughed at them because the failure rate was so astronomical. Students left the school, joking about the priests and novices. They went back to their lives…”
“And then some vanished. They went to Talis as traders. Some went to space, taking jobs on other planets. They became merchants and craftsmen. They never stayed.”
“Oh shit.” I dropped my head to my hands. “The dropouts…they were your corps of operatives.” The memory of a significant number of temple dropouts seared my mind.
“I am not at liberty to reveal their identities, Griffin, but you are now a general, and as such, are part of the governing structure. The information the temple harvests is shared with the army and the royal advisors.”
“Not the council?”
He hesitated. “No. Not the council. That is no longer their role.”
At some point in the past year, the council had lost their king’s trust. He was actively keeping intelligence from them. What else was Helios keeping from me?
Overwhelmed, I flopped back to the cushions. With my arms crossed behind my head, I looked up into the sky and saw the first stars of the evening flaring to life. Night birds began to sing, and the perfume of flowers tickled my nose. It lacked the lush gardens and forests of Arash, but Neo Domus had magic of its own. In the distance, I heard thunder roll across the sky. The mountains would have rain tonight. In the winter, snow would frost those peaks, perhaps even reach down to our city. The planet was rough, young, and dangerous. I wondered if our skies would remain safe. I rested an arm over my eyes, blocking not only the sky from my view, but my lover as well. My mind raced, one thought skittering off another, until I dropped my arm and once again looked up at the sky.
Helios rose and straddled my hips. His hair trailed down either side of his body, and as he moved, it brushed my skin. He leaned forward and framed my face with his hands.
“Oh, my beautiful man.” His voice was a heartbroken sigh in the night air.
Normally I’d have laughed that off. Tonight, the mood was too heavy. Helios studied my face while brushing his hands into my hair. They were hard and calloused now, so different from the soft delicacy they’d had just a year ago. He loved me; it was there in his expressive eyes, mingling with the growing knowledge that all was not well between the two of us. I’d always loved Helios, even when we butted heads and jockeyed for dominance. But I’d fallen in love with the man who’d been Pasha, the slave and whore. Now it seemed yet another version of Helios was emerging. It was a version of the man I’d forced him to become when I brought him home.
Helios tilted his head and feathered his lips over mine. He nuzzled gently, then explored the planes of my cheek, kissing along the seam of the scar that snaked out from under my eye patch. His kisses were chaste, and his love was healing. The tight hold of anger slipped away, and I reached up and pulled him down to lie atop my body.
He slid down and rested his head over my heart. We lay under Neo Domus’s golden moons, clothed only in warm breezes and the silk of his hair.