She had me at hello…literally. ; ) From the very first moment we met, the subject of today’s 5.4.8×5 interview, offered me friendship and support. Never asking for a thing in return – it was just a simple act of kindness that meant a whole lot, even to the loud-mouthed, new kid on the block.
Her work seems to know no limits when it comes to stepping across the sub-genre lines of manly romance. While equally comfortable guiding us through the seriousness life sometimes leaves at our door as she is navigating her way around the light-hearted comedy found in something as simple as a family dinner…one thing stays true…with Z.A. Maxfield the love always comes through.
Ethan: Let me first say how much I truly enjoyed your new book, The Pharaohs Concubine – now available from Samhain Publishing. Between the title and your description of the book to me when we were first discussing it – prior to my reading it – I found myself mightily confused. Knowing you as I do, I should have trusted you’d knock this one right out of the park the way you have every other book of yours I’ve read. That being said, I simply HAD to ask. Where in the hell did you come up with the idea of mixing a Russian crime lord, an ex-Mormon, and a reluctant gang-banger? Again, don’t get me wrong, Z – you blended them all beautifully. But I’ll admit to initially wondering if you’d been smoking some of that wacky weed out there in Cali, LOL! So, how did this character combo come to you, and were you scratching your head in the beginning as well, or were you able to visualize the possibilities from the get go?
ZAM: When I begin a novel, it almost always begins with a specific scene, so I had in my mind the first chapter. I don’t think I’m giving spoilers if I reveal that Dylan Anderson, the well cared for lover of Yvgeny Mosko, crime lord, is leaving from the VIP exit of a spa when he’s the victim of an attempted kidnapping.
Given that, I began to ask myself about Dylan. What kind of man would be happy with a life where he’s second fiddle to an official wife and family? What kind of man can ignore the moral implications of spending money made largely from crime? How did he get there, is he attached to it, or has he shut off his emotions and his innate morality and if so, why?
And then of course with regard to William Escobar, Memo, I planned a character who, like many young men I come into contact with every day, are shunted by family ties and expectation, peer pressure, economic woes, sheer alienation, and loneliness into gangs. While it’s easy to paint the picture of Crime Lord, Mormon, Gangster, I hope (I believe it fervently or this wouldn’t be seeing the light of day) that I’ve transcended stereotypes, at least a little, to tell their story.
Oddly enough, when push came to shove, and I was writing PC, the chasm between Mormon and gangster filled up with family ties, loyalty, tradition, and peer pressure until it started to look like they had at least a little common ground.
Ethan: Most definitely, that was a nice surprise to find, because initially it was difficult to wrap my brain around. I was asking myself, how is she going to bring these two together? It was nicely done in the book and the beautiful underlying message, that despite their backgrounds, two people who are different in so many ways can still be the same at their core – after stripping away all the protective layers we learn to cover up with as we grow up and move into adulthood.
ZAM: I sometimes think that we all want basically the same things, a sense of self worth, a physically comfortable life, and companionship. Those layers we put on can keep us from finding what we need, and sometimes stripping them off makes things simpler.
Ethan: Dylan’s character was the driving force of this novel, for me. It was his journey that I found myself completely invested within. Despite having lived the bulk of his adult life looking out at the world from the perceived safety of his gilded cage, Dylan seemed to be coolly detached from reality…even once he’s no longer protected by that cage. How much of this did you think was naturally inherent in his character vs. an aspect of conditioning, due to his upbringing and events in his past?
ZAM: I felt from the very first that Dylan was deeply damaged by being pruned from the family tree. Rootless, isolated, I thought it would have been very easy for him to allow an older man’s kindness to lure him into that cage. I also believe he felt grateful, and valued, and cared for very much by his lover, but I think it might not have been possible for him to form true attachments to either people or things. He’d lost everything in the blink of an eye because of a fundamental truth about himself he refused to alter, hide, or ignore. I think it would be hard to believe in anything after that. I saw him as detached for his sanity’s sake. Ready to roll with the punches.
Ethan: As a side note to Dylan’s character, while I’ve certainly drawn my own conclusions, I wondered why you felt he would have ever agreed to become the kept boy of such a powerfully frightening man such as Mosko? I certainly never got the impression it had anything to do with the financial side of things – though he certainly enjoyed the trappings – but I don’t feel as though he truly missed that. Do you think he was merely trying to find shelter from the world at large, feared he didn’t deserve anything more out of life, or was it something else entirely?
ZAM: Dylan is pretty obtuse about his own worth. He has those values, still, instilled in him by his family and his church. He’s more about what he can offer in the form of service or hard work, not what he’s intrinsically worth.
He’s drawn to the warmth of Mosko’s kindness; if Mosko had been a homeless guy living in a box, I think Dylan would have been equally attracted. I tried to portray Dylan as someone who, after leaving his family, drifted until someone wanted him and took him in. I think mostly, until the end of the book, Dylan allows people to come and go, and he tries not to get his hopes up or his emotions involved. He tries to provide service, because he doesn’t imagine anyone would want him for himself.
Ethan: Pretty sad the way sometimes the very people who are supposed to love and support you the most wind up being the ones that do the most damage. There is definitely a sort of inherent sadness to him. But there’s no wallowing or self pity about him, like I said, he’s a very interesting character.
Since there are so many different ways a writer can go about telling the same story, I’ve always been fascinated by the choices an author makes when it comes to the voice or voices they use to narrate a tale. After reading Concubine, it seemed as if most roads led back to one character, Dylan. That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy William and Desiree and what their perspective brought to book, but it did have me wondering what made you decide to open this story up to multiple POV’s? Was it merely the default choice that you prefer to work within, or was there another reason – some aspect of the story you didn’t feel you could otherwise tell had you been limited to one voice?
ZAM: I guess since part of the story hinges on how Dylan sees himself as opposed to how others see him, it seemed natural to view him through the eyes of those other characters. Plus, I really wanted to be inside William’s head. I think William is a great guy. His strength and loyalty and viewpoint with regard to Dylan’s family and the men in Dylan’s life were important to the story. The change in POV was required because Dylan was an unreliable narrator. Due to his detachment and his inability to see his own worth, and due to his past, it takes both men’s POVs for the reader to see clearly what Dylan cannot.
Ethan: Very good point, Z. I think all authors suffer the fear that wrong choices made with regard to labeling and marketing our goodies will wind up hurting the books we so lovingly spent all those hours perfecting – usually at the expense of some other aspect of our real lives. I found that I really enjoyed the title in conjunction with who Dylan was as the story opened up – how well it fit the book from beginning to end. That surprised me a bit considering all the other connotations that come with a title like The Pharaoh’s Concubine, especially considering the fantasy based genre we work within, which includes historical and the supernatural. While we all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…or title…or blurb for that matter, we all do it. Were you at all worried about that when it came down to selecting the title?
ZAM: Oh heavens, YES! I opened up the discussion to others, authors and readers alike … Egads. After all, the book is about neither pharaohs nor concubines. I expect to get an angry letter or two from Egypt Exploration Society about that. I got lots of excellent suggestions but in the end when I put the question to Sasha Knight, my Samhain editor, and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, she said she loved the title. So hey, who am I to quibble. She’s the one who makes me look good, and she had her hands full with me on this one for some reason. It’s a tough sell, the Mormon, gay, gangbanger, crime lord book. *rolls eyes* If you liked it, much credit goes to Sasha. If you didn’t it’s all mine… 😀
Ethan: I’ll give Sasha her due, especially considering this is the second interview I’ve done and her name has come up in both separate interviews. But I see your stamp all over this book too, Z. It’s got your voice. : )
ZAM: Err, yeah, if by that you mean that my characters never shut the hell up. 😀 But yes, definitely, Sasha gets her due, she really is an outstanding editor, and this is our second book together. She’s landed me like a big airplane on a small boat safely both times. GO Sasha!
Beauty is only skin deep…until love reveals what lies beneath.
As mob boss Yvgeny Mosko’s open secret, Dylan Anderson is happy enough with a passionate, if loveless, arrangement that affords him a life of luxury. But at thirty-six, he wonders how committed Mosko will be to an aging lover.
He finds out when a rival gang kidnaps him in a turf war everyone’s sure to lose. Mosko unleashes deadly force, leaving no one alive except for a young man whose dark eyes tug at Dylan’s heart—and the conscience he thought he’d excised long ago.
Though he tried to stop the kidnapping, William “Memo” Escobar knows Mosko will use what’s left of him to send a powerful message to his rivals. When Mosko’s pampered pretty boy risks everything to help him escape, he can’t believe his luck.
William figures he’s better suited to life off the grid, but as the days go by he begins to realize Dylan’s beauty is more than skin deep. And as Dylan coaxes more and more beguiling smiles from William, he yearns for things—like family ties—he’d thought were best forgotten.
Yet behind their newfound happiness lurks the certain knowledge that no matter how careful they are, Mosko will come for what’s his.
Warning: This book contains a mob boss, a kept man, and a reluctant kidnapper who will never have to hear the words, “Size doesn’t matter.
Dylan’s breath caught when he saw William’s nude body, the skin of his bare back golden and glistening, inviting in the low light even if his abominable tattoos reminded Dylan of things he’d rather forget. Yves had a mural of colorful tattoos, quasi religious in nature, each facet symbolizing some part of his life in prison, his status among his men, his years in the mob, reworked and added onto with each new turn in the road his life had taken.
William’s tats, with the exception of the enticing round one next to his cock, had been etched there as a beginning, the once upon a time of his story. Dylan didn’t doubt he was meant to have become part of the inked résumé—as a victim, had their attempt to ransom him been successful. Yet he could no more stop staring than he could have stopped breathing.
If only he could remember how to breathe at all.
Everything had changed with that earlier embrace. Dylan saw William with new eyes, and he hadn’t imagined William’s appraisal of him at dinner or the subtle sensual challenge he saw there.
After a silent moment, William spoke. “I could use boots.”
Dylan lifted his focus from William’s chest to find him watching, his gaze cautious but maybe a little smug.
William waited. “Maybe a hat and some shades like yours? That would be cool.”
Dylan’s soggy jeans were half undone. They draped precariously low on his hips. William’s gaze dropped to the line of pubic hair that showed above wet blue fabric. Dylan’s cheeks flushed. Any slight shift and William would see the effect his presence was having on Dylan’s body. Again.
Dylan grabbed up his towel and muttered, “Excuse me,” before heading to the bathroom.
Well, shit. What was that all about? Dylan wanted him. Why did he keep running away?
William was too fucking sore, cold and tired to worry about it. Walking had sucked the energy right out of him. He felt a little sick, like the mountain air really didn’t have enough oxygen in it for him to do more than lie on his bed and rest.
Going to dinner had tired him, even though it was fun and tasted as fine as anything he imagined he’d get in a fancy restaurant. He’d felt Dylan’s eyes on him the entire time.
I want you.
Maybe—finally—Dylan would stop treating him like he was some kid he had to watch out for until social services stepped in.
William grabbed a blanket and sat on one of the rockers in front of the fireplace. Curiosity kept him still, waiting. When Dylan returned from the bathroom, he wore the usual cool, distant expression on his face, even though he wasn’t quite meeting William’s eyes. He busied himself with building a fire while William watched and soon had a bright blaze glowing behind the fire screen.
“This ought to warm things up.” Dylan pulled a blanket off his bed and sat in the rocker next to William.
“I’m glad Ernesto put firewood in here. The wood out back is probably pretty damp. We have enough for tonight, anyway.”
“I checked, there are more blankets in the cupboard next to the kitchenette.”
“We won’t freeze; there’s a space heater.”
“I guess I’m just not used to it.”
“It can get pretty cold in Vegas at night. One time it even snowed. Nothing like here though.”
“I saw that on the news. Snow in Vegas.”
“That was pretty amazing. Yves and I were having breakfast and he just…”
William’s curiosity got the better of him. “What did he do?”
Dylan smiled. “It’s nothing. He and I were together and he left so he could go home and play in the snow with his grandkids. It was beautiful. So serene. I felt a little like playing in it myself.”
“I can see that.” William closed his eyes. It wasn’t hard to picture Dylan looking through the window of his opulent house, a man who had everything except someone to play with him in the snow. William was so tired the heat from the fire pulled every last bit of strength from his body. No matter how much he wanted Dylan, he could hardly keep his eyes open. “I bet you do all that snow stuff.”
“I ski and snowboard. Des is a maniac. She’s completely fearless. She used to play ice hockey.”
“I’m glad you can see her again. Sometimes I think…” He drifted into sleep, his rocker slowing to a bare back and forth, inches only.
Dylan’s voice startled him. “William?”
“Hm?” He started rocking again.
“You were in the middle of a sentence.”
When William opened his eyes, Dylan faced him, half illuminated by the fire, made up of reflected light and mysterious shadows, as enigmatic as the moon. “I was just saying I’m glad you have your sister back. Maybe when I’m thinking about you I can think of that and I won’t feel so bad for what we did to you.”
“You don’t need to feel—” Dylan’s voice stopped. “I can’t say what you need to feel.”
“I have to go and start over somewhere, and I’d like to know that you don’t…that you won’t be feeling responsible for me or some stupid shit like that.”
Dylan’s hand came down on William’s so timidly he didn’t move for fear that Dylan would snatch it away. “I wish I could give it all back to you. I’ve been trying to think of a way you could keep your college credits and maybe even renew your scholarship, but I can’t think how to do that without risking your—”
“Shh. Don’t worry.” William turned his hand and carefully laced his tender fingers with Dylan’s.
“But I do worry. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Look at you, going all concerned for me—like in that syndrome.”
Dylan snorted. “Stockholm syndrome? Doesn’t it sort of feel like you’re my hostage now?”
William gave up a sad smile. Maybe he could be honest for once. Maybe it wouldn’t get him in too much trouble to say what was on his mind.
In his heart.
He lifted his gaze and found Dylan watching him. “Papi, I’ve been your hostage since day one. Since the first time I saw you.”
The grip on William’s hand went slack.
“You don’t seem to know it, but you’re one very fine motherfucker, Dylan. My personal walking wet dream.”
Dylan whispered, “How come you call me papi?”
William tilted his head. “I don’t know. It’s just a thing. Like when Esme calls you m’hijo.”
Dylan didn’t break eye contact. He held William’s gaze for a long enough time that it made William want to look away, but he forced himself to meet those strange light eyes. What he found there was something pure and—probably—more honest than he was ready for. He didn’t find acceptance, necessarily, but what he saw didn’t cause him to lose hope, either.
“You should sack out, huh?” Dylan said quietly.
Disappointment flooded him. “Yeah.” William got up and carried his blanket back to bed.
“Lots to do tomorrow.” Dylan padded to his own bed. “Ernesto has a list a mile long and I’m not sure we can do half of the chores with the grounds so wet.”
“There’s new shit that will come up with the storm.”
“Yeah. Maybe more roofs to check out.”
“Night, Dylan.” William turned his back and pulled his covers over his head.
© Copyright 2011 Z.A. Maxfield