Hi, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of Genre Talk here on The Novel Approach Reviews. Today DSP Publications author Bradley Lloyd is here to give us a look at his new Science Fiction release Shadow Fray, book one of the Round One series, and he’s doing a giveaway we’re pretty sure you’ll want to see. But before we get to all that, let’s have a look at what his new release is all about.
Family is worth fighting for—and family doesn’t always mean blood.
No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.
Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.
Carole: Ooh, sounds very gritty and wonderfully speculative, as all good sci-fi should. So why don’t we start there. Tell us a bit about your genre.
Bradley: I’m a lover of speculative fiction because it asks questions more than it provides answers, and that “what if?” line of thinking can hook me quickly. I recently listened to an Audible lecture, How Great Science Fiction Works, and one of the ah-ha moments I had was when the speaker stated that literary fiction, which is much more popular than sci-fi or speculative fiction, makes readers say to themselves, “Ah, yes. That’s true.” Speculative fiction and sci-fi do the opposite. Speculative fiction doesn’t pat you on the back with universal truths, but finds value in the questions. In that way, speculative fiction and sci-fi frequently have an element of mystery, because like a sleuth the reader is pursuing some sort of solution, whether that’s found in the pages of the book or in its application to our daily lives.
I’m also a lover of romance. It started when I was a child and my mom would take me along grocery shopping, which was sooooo boring. So, I’d park myself by that spinny-book-caddy thing, pick the hottest guy on the cover of one of the paperbacks (remember Fabio?), and then I’d read. Well, more like I skimmed the book and really read the juicy parts. As I got older, I devoured books like that because they were so FUN to read. This was with heterosexual romances, too, so you can imagine how primed I was when I read my first m/m book. It totally blew my mind! I was in heaven. My primary purpose in writing Shadow Fray was to share the love I received from books, to hopefully provide others with the same kind of feeling.
Carole: A noble goal, surely! So how does all that apply to Shadow Fray? What can you tell us about it we won’t find on the back cover?
Bradley: This question is AWESOME because I can now talk about everything that doesn’t fit in the blurb or synopsis! Such as:
1. No, you don’t need to be a mixed martial arts fan to understand this book. As a fan myself, I focused on the action and implications, not so much the jargon. And if you are a fan? There’s still plenty for you, you’ll just know an omoplata when you read it!
2. Yes, there is sex.
3. Yes, I do know what happened to poison the ground, and yes, you will know too, eventually, but the clues are there.
4. I love suspense but hate anxiety. Suspense keeps me turning pages, but anxiety makes me want to put a book down. How do you find a good balance? Sometimes these characters figure their shit out in time to prevent any trouble in the first place. While another crisis always looms, I think that momentary feeling of relief can be very powerful and enjoyable for the reader, while building the characters in unique ways.
5. I have a full cast of characters. I wanted one of the themes of the book to be our created families, and that necessitated some engaging and varied supporting players. And…
6. The female characters, and those identifying that way, really kick ass. Not literally, but they’re a strong bunch. They tend to rule the world of Shadow Fray, which is pretty fun in a m/m book.
Carole: Wow! So glad we asked! Thanks for all that. No doubt the interest of our Awesome Readers is now irrevocably piqued. So let’s move on to the “diversity” topic. How do you define it in your writing, and how did you explore it in Shadow Fray?
Bradley: I wanted Shadow Fray to accurately reflect the make-up of the cities where it takes place. This part came naturally. I’m a teacher in a large urban school district, and my cast of characters reflects the racial diversity I see around me every day.
I was also told by one of my editors that it was unusual to have an elderly character (Griz) take such a prominent role in the story, at least in the m/m genre. I didn’t do this intentionally, but it is true that I have major characters from 10 to 90 years old. I really enjoy the variety of perspectives that diversity in age allows, plus I lived with my grandparents for many years so maybe I have a somewhat unusual viewpoint I wasn’t fully aware of. There’s also a 13-year age gap between Justin and Hale. I play with the number 13 a lot in the book, but my point with that was much like a 13th floor doesn’t exist in Justin’s high-rise, the 13-year age difference between them doesn’t need to matter.
The youngest character in my story, 10-year-old Charlie, has special needs. He’s close to my heart because I’m a special education teacher, but it’s also writing what I know. Charlie is loosely based on my experience working with students with selective mutism. I work with a lot of children who have experienced trauma of some type. Trauma in an urban setting is near epidemic proportions. I wanted Charlie to reflect the struggles I see, but even though Charlie has a history, he is fully realized and fully functional in his own way and on his own terms. He’s a true survivor, and I hope you fall in love with him as much as I have.
I also have characters that are transgender and intersex. This was deliberate, as I had a “What if?” question that I wanted to explore. What if transgender and intersex people were far more prevalent, numerous and visible? How would the world, and societal views, be different? That’s intrinsic to the plot and something that I will continue to explore throughout the series, but you’ll get the foundation for this exploration in Round One.
Carole:) Sounds very diverse, then, and plotty and character-driven, which brings us to our next topic. Shadow Fray is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t necessarily focus on or even contain romance. Tell us more about the relationship in Shadow Fray and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Bradley: Even though Shadow Fray is a romance, it’s speculative fiction, solidly in the sci-fi camp, but I’d term it soft sci-fi as it’s grounded in this world in the not too-distant future. Think Fight Club meets The Hunger Games. The core of the book is how these characters find ways to not only survive in a changed world, but provide for the people that they love in order to remain a family. In that way, it doesn’t fit everyone’s expected definition of romance in the m/m genre. It’s about more than just Justin and Hale.
So the romance is there, but there’s more. In fact, the easiest tip I got from my editor at DSPP was to include more world building. I was thrilled, because I had many details I had been holding back so Shadow Fray would fit into more of the traditional romance mold. At the encouragement of DSPP, I took some of the world building details that I had been planning on dropping gradually in the subsequent books and put them back into the first book. It was sort of like I had placed myself on a diet that wasn’t very healthy for me or my book, and when I was given permission to loosen my belt and indulge, Shadow Fray could be the book it was always trying to be.
Finally, I wanted to write a book that’s heavy on action and suspense, more of a summer-time page-turner. I’m thrilled this book is releasing near Memorial Day, because it would make a perfect beach read.
Carole: And following up a bit on the world building, what about the names of the characters? Do they have significance?
Bradley: The names absolutely have significance. I’m fascinated by naming trends, and how you can sometimes tell what generation someone belongs to by their name alone. So, I had to think ahead. What names might be popular in the future? What names can I invent? Or recycle? Or Harry Potter-ize, because doesn’t J.K. Rowling have terrific names?
This book was particularly fun because the characters who compete in Shadow Fray need to remain anonymous and this necessitates a stage name. Black Jim came to me automatically. I had a picture in my head of Apocalypse Now, when Martin Sheen’s face slowly surfaces from the water and he’s covered in black grease paint. It’s an iconic image. The “Jim” part came from the James Dean role in my favorite film, Rebel Without a Cause.
Justin is a name I’ve used before in my short fiction (available on my website). He’s my everyman, putting others before himself. He’s “just” a man, but also tries to do what’s right and just. His conscience is something he wrestles with in a world where people are forced to do things they’d rather not do. This brings a lot of complexity to his character. As for his stage name, I’m excited for readers to see its progression. It evolves through the second book along with his career and popularity, and the things he must do.
I also decided not to use last names in most instances. I feel it adds to the sense of anonymity in a society where privacy is largely a thing of the past, like a person’s name is the last thing they can hold on to that’s truly theirs. Another reason I didn’t reveal last names is because of the changing nature of families in this society, where family does not always mean blood…or a common name. The wealthier Uppers, or people that want to be well-known, use last names. Our heroes, however, don’t feel the need. They come from outside the named class, and they need to remain anonymous.
Carole: A lot of readers don’t really get that research is still necessary, even when you’re dealing with a created world that’s speculative in nature. What sort of research did you need to do to make the world of Shadow Fray come alive?
Bradley: I loved my research. I got to watch a lot of UFC fights and host parties with my friends! I also attended my first live events. Best research ever! Listening to audiobooks by fighters was very helpful, and I love that George St. Pierre narrated his own audiobook. Sam Sheridan has two great books/memoirs on fight theory. Then there were lots of YouTube courses on fighting and self-defense. I didn’t love researching injuries, because it got kinda gross. I’m not a fan of gore, but at the same time, it was very fascinating. I’m pretty confident I could give someone stitches if they had absolutely no one else to do the job.
Carole: Let’s hope you never have to. 😉 Besides a crash course in emergency medicine, what projects are you working on now and what’s coming next from you?
Bradley: Shadow Fray Round Two is already completed, tentatively titled The Shadow Masters, and the story mapped out for the subsequent books. I’m writing number three now, while aiming for five total, since a championship fight often has five rounds. That said, I’m not rigid with my planning. I’m also working on side projects with some of the supporting characters from the series, so you can expect to hear more from them.
Carole: Fantastic! We’ll all keep an eye out, right after we by and sink into the gritty world of Shadow Fray. Thanks for being with us today, Bradley!
And thank you, Awesome Readers, for tagging along. We still have that giveaway to get to, so don’t go away just yet. But first, let’s enjoy the following excerpt from Shadow Fray Bradley was kind enough to bring along.
Fighters in Shadow Fray must remain anonymous. Hale fights as Black Jim, and the more inexperienced Justin is known only as the Visitor. Hale, however, has been keeping an eye on this mysterious new fighter, watching his videos, and wondering if they will ever meet in an Arena. When Hale’s next Fray is scheduled, as per the rules, he has no idea who he will fight until his opponent arrives, and no one else is in attendance beyond each fighter’s handler.
Second Fray. Arena: Basilica of St. Josaphat
Hale wasn’t ready for this.
He stood at the front of the church a few yards from the altar. Moonlight entered the glass at the center of the dome far above his head and cast a silver glow to his shadowed form. He stood in pose with his arms slightly away from his body, palms facing back. Behind him on the altar, a much smaller crucifix looked down. The outspread hands and upturned palms on this ivory Christ were a stark contrast to the demon standing before it. Looking at the tiny lights of about thirty different cameras around the church, he knew he cast an imposing figure in this holiest of places. He loved the theatrics. He should feel like a god awakened from the underworld.
Instead he felt like a puppet hanging on strings.
He’d seen his little girl every day this week, and yet he was still lost. When he’d lived next door and all that separated them was a wall, he could at least pretend he was living with her. She was in the next room. Now that he’d moved, he felt every single foot of the distance between them.
Here in the Arena, he felt that distance more keenly. He had a bad feeling about tonight. Whether from the lack of sleep or the disruption in his life, he was nervous like he hadn’t been in years, with a gnawing thought that he might not see his baby girl again. Maybe he should get out of the games after all.
But those were ridiculous thoughts. Benz would catch any questionable shit someone might try to sneak by. Everyone in Shadow Fray was on alert, and nothing like what had happened in the Mutual Conglomerate Arena had happened since. No one had died. Besides, he was doing this for Eddie. He couldn’t back out. Why was he thinking about this at all? This had been settled with Benz weeks ago.
He needed to get his mind on the fight. Be Black Jim.
He heard the large front doors of the church open. Benz stood three-quarters of the way down the center aisle, careful not to block his view, but it was too dark for Hale to see clearly. Whoever it was, they weren’t making a subtle entrance. Of course, this was hardly the Arena for subtlety.
It had been a long time since he didn’t have to consciously drag out a fight. He’d be fine. Everything would be fine.
And then he saw the brown-hood mask of the man walking toward him, the man everyone called Scarecrow. That meant—
Shit. He never should have spit in that holy water. But Scarecrow had other Brawlers, right? It might not be him. It might not be the Visitor. Hale tried to look down the aisle, but now Scarecrow was in the way, and Benz was getting ready to inspect whoever was behind him.
Scarecrow took the long walk down the aisle and knelt before Hale. The freak began inspecting Hale’s boots, pressing the thin soles to find any irregularities. Scarecrow’s hands wandered up, patting Hale down so thoroughly that by the time he was done, Scarecrow knew exactly how big Hale’s dick was. Hale didn’t even glance at him.
Scarecrow walked back down the aisle. Hale’s mind was frozen.
As Benz lowered himself to the floor to begin his inspection, Hale finally got a look at his opponent. Lit only by the candles along the sides of the church, he was just a shadow, but Hale recognized him immediately. Those broad shoulders were unmistakable.
The kid could easily wrap a man in his arms and fold in on him, like a mousetrap. The flickering light gave a hint of his bare chest, and Hale pictured the sparse dusting of hair. He could see the outline of the guy’s hip bones and was familiar with the ridges of stomach muscle between them. The kid didn’t appear to be returning his gaze though. Odd. Usually his foes stared like an animal caught in headlights.
Hale started to tremble slightly, thankful for the darkness so no one would notice. Was he scared? This poor kid, the one he had spent weeks watching, was going to fight Black Jim. Why should Hale be scared? Because he felt bad for the kid? Was there a part of him that didn’t want to hit him? No, that wouldn’t explain the bad feeling he had, the feeling that something was wrong.
Hale spent the remaining seconds trying to put his poisoned thoughts aside and focus on that other feeling he had. The feeling that he was going to put his hands all over the Visitor.
The feeling of excitement.
About the Author
Bradley Lloyd is a Chicago-born author who studied Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was raised in a conservative religious household but became aware of his sexuality at a very young age—about the same age he learned of his ancestry to Hans Christian Andersen. Inspired by this knowledge, writing became an outlet that helped him cope with inner conflicts and bullying.
Of course, he was no angel and occasionally used his storytelling powers for evil. He once convinced the neighborhood children that gnomes had been real before all being turned into lawn ornaments.
Later, these experiences lead him to work with middle-school students. Now a teacher in the inner city, he shares his love of writing with a captive audience of kids, who are thrilled with true(ish) tales of their haunted school building.
Interestingly, his favorite UFC fighter and former world champion was a student at his school, and when Brad is not reading or writing, you might find him hosting the next UFC pay-per-view event party. His dreams of becoming an ultimate fighter are realized vicariously through his stories and video games.
Brad is happily married to a wonderful husband. Their tenth anniversary was also the day same-sex marriage became legal, and they were couple number seven at the courthouse.
You can read more of Brad’s (free) tales on his website BradleyLloyd.com, check him out on Medium, follow IMBradleyLloyd on Facebook and Twitter, or e-mail him directly at IMBradleyLloyd@BradleyLloyd.com
And now for the GIVEAWAY! Bradley’s decided to do something different for this one. See that hoody on the cover of Shadow Fray? How would you like to own one? Now, in order to enter, you’ll need to comment below, and answer the following question:
In the post above, I refer to my grandparents and their influence on my characters. What older person had an influence on your life?
AND, for a bonus entry, you’ll be given a question to answer through the Rafflecopter link below.
You can do one or both—comment and/or answer the bonus question. Each is worth one entry in the drawing.
PLEASE NOTE that if you win, you’ll need to give Bradley your size and snail mail address so he can send you your prize. (He promises not to stalk you!) Don’t put your private information in your comment—if you win the drawing, Bradley will contact you via private email for all that.
And now that that’s all out of the way—get clicking and enter to win!
Okay, that’s everything for this week. Thanks for joining us, everyone! If you’d like to keep tabs on Genre Talk and never miss a post, hop on over and like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page.
We’ll see you next time on Genre Talk when we welcome author Lloyd A. Meeker, who will be by with his Genre Talk quarterly feature column Through My Lens, in which he’ll discuss broken heroes and the psychology behind characterizing them well. It’s a great post, guys, so don’t miss it!
Until then, that’s all for this week. On behalf of me and Co-pilot Extraordinaire Elizabeth Noble, thanks for spending some time with us, and have a great week!