So, let’s hop right in with the blurb for A.J.’s latest release Cougar Chaos.
Parks and Wildlife Officer Brock Summers-Weir and his new husband, wildlife rehabber Landon Weir-Summers, are on their honeymoon high in the northern Colorado Rockies when they find an orphaned cougar cub. They quickly discover that there have been a number of cougars injured or killed in the area around Steamboat Springs. Although they are supposed to be on vacation, they work with local officials to try to find out what’s happening to the big cats.
When they get too close to the answers, their camp is ransacked and an ominous message is left. Rather than letting this intimidate them, they step up their investigation in the hopes that they can find the people responsible for the carnage and still manage to have a happy honeymoon.
Elizabeth: Tell us about your genre.
A.J.: Mystery/Thriller. To me this is a genre where there’s questions that need to be answered, but there’s also a lot of suspense and action in the attempts to find those answers. A good mystery is going to keep the reader turning pages in an effort to find out what happens next. Also it will keep them guessing, but when they go back and look at things, all the clues were laid out for them somewhere in the book. If the book is more of a thriller, then the action level of the book must stay high to keep the readers’ attention.
Elizabeth: Tell us about Cougar Chaos.
A.J.: Cougar Chaos is the continuing tale of Brock and Landon as their life continues to evolve and the chaos that seems to follow them around. You can enjoy the book without having read the first three books, as the main story line is stand alone. It’s the story of Brock and Landon that keeps chugging along and developing with each new book. These two guys and the adventures they get into are incredibly exciting for me to write. I absolutely love it.
Elizabeth: Tell us how you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book.
A.J.: Diversity means a lot of different things to different people. What I try to do is show diverse people living normal lives, or as normal as I can make it. Most normal people don’t run a wildlife rehabilitation center like Landon does, but when you look beyond that, he’s just a man, who’s recently married the love of his life and just wants to spend a quiet happy honeymoon in the mountains. Brock is a law enforcement officer who happens to be gay and wants the same things his new husband does. The fact they’re gay is more or less an undertone to the whole story, not the main story. Not by a long shot. I’ll be happy when more stories are like that and don’t have to be called gay fiction, or LGBT mysteries, but just mysteries.
Elizabeth: Cougar Chaos 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 about the relationship in Cougar Chaos and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
A.J.: The Mountain Spirit Mysteries started out as romances and I was thrilled when DSPP came along and I could move them from the romance side of Dreamspinner to there. It gave me the ability to keep the mysteries going, to really explore Brock and Landon’s life beyond the simple falling in love. Life is about a lot more than that, but these two men do love each other very deeply. These books are as much about the animals they both help in the daily life as they are about Brock and Landon’s romantic life. In each book, we’ve seen them take their relationship further, in the last book, Moose Fever they got married. In Cougar Chaos they go on their honeymoon and it gave me the opportunity to go explore a new locale. Much like Tony Hillerman‘s books, we see the characters change over the course of the books, but the books are first and foremost about the mystery, the action.
Elizabeth: 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 Cougar Chaos?
A.J.: Back when I was writing Eagle’s Blood, the first of the Mountain Spirit mysteries, I knew I wanted to keep writing them. I realized I had a couple of characters who’d keep me going for a long time. When it got moved to the mystery side of the house, I knew I could do a lot with them. I’ve always loved big cats. For several years back nearly twenty years ago, I did photography for a big cat sanctuary which is now C.A.R.E. in Bridgeport Texas. They had a couple of cougars there. They were awesome cats. I’ve always enjoyed writing about big cats, almost as much as I love writing about birds of prey. A couple of years ago, there was a news article about an outfitter in northwestern Colorado who’d been convicted of canned hunts. I’d just started writing the Mountain Spirit books then and instantly knew Brock and Landon had to deal with something like this. (I get a lot of my ideas from the news…the names, places, and some details are changed to protect the guilty). I just needed a reason to get the guys out of Teller County…their regular stomping grounds. A honeymoon was the perfect excuse and the book came to be.
Elizabeth: What do you do for fun? Do you have a pet who supervises your writing?
A.J.: Do I have a pet who supervises me…which one??? Ironically about a year ago we got a big goofy puppy from my nephew who’d gotten the pup as a replacement for his girlfriend (an improvement if you ask any of the family). Then his life got busy and he wanted to find a home for the big goofball…This just happened to be the same time we were visiting and we came home with him. We had problems coming up with a name for him…my nephew was calling him Fang…yeah, he’s not a Fang. We ended up putting a few names on line and having friends help us sort it out. We named him Bear. Then a week or so later, I got a round of edits on a MSM book and realized Bear is the name of Brock’s big goofy mutt. But by then the name stuck. We didn’t purposely name him after the character who always has the last line in the books, but it happened. He’s not as big as Brock’s Bear is, but he’s still large and hyper.
Elizabeth: Do you write in different genres and if so how difficult is it to do?
A.J.: Yes, I write romances, mysteries, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, YA….just about the whole gambit. I have ideas hitting me all the time and I basically write the genre that best fits the idea. It keep life interesting and fun. I think if I was writing one thing all the time, I’d eventually burn out, or my brain would explode.
Elizabeth: Bear is a good dog name. I too once had a large, goofy, happy dog by the name of Bear. Thank you, A.J. for being our guest today. There are sales links and admiration links for keeping up with A.J., but first, the excerpt!
“There’s something over here.” Landon moved off the well-traveled trail toward the sound. “Do me a favor and keep Bear up here for a couple of minutes.” From the trail, the terrain quickly dropped off. Landon moved as quietly as he could toward the sound. A tiny game trail wound down the steep hillside. If he hadn’t been a good hiker, he wouldn’t have wanted to tackle it. The loose, degenerating granite made the going rough. Several times he scrambled for purchase as he nearly slipped and kicked a cascade of rocks down into the thick trees. Watching his footing, he didn’t see any recent animal tracks on the loose ground.
The trail ended at a couple of large boulders. The crying grew louder and distinct enough that Landon was fairly sure it was a cat of some kind, and it was either in the rocks or behind them. He crouched down and peered in the crevice where rock rested on the side of the hill, covering the trail. There was the sharp smell of ammonia, reminiscent of a cat box.
The crying stopped, and a shadowy shape disappeared farther into the darkness. Struggling to find secure handholds on the boulder, Landon crawled across the first rock to look in between the two stones. His injured shin rubbed against a sharp rock, and he drew in a tight pained breath. He pushed the harsh sensation back, intent on finding out who was mewing so pitifully.
Small eyes looked up at him from a tawny face. The little mountain lion hissed at him, then cried again.
Landon glanced about, trying to see any evidence that a mother mountain lion had been in the area. There aren’t any tracks on the game trail. Even with loose scree, there should be at least a partial track. If the area’s starting to smell of cat scat, it’s been here a while.
“What’s down there?” Brock shouted, breaking the silence for the first time.
“A mountain lion cub. In between these boulders,” Landon called back. “See if you can find any sign of a lion up there. It should be using the trail. I’ve got nothing down here.” He tried to decide what he wanted to do. If there had been tracks or other signs, he’d leave the cub be. But mountain lion cubs were normally as quiet as the adults, particularly cubs that had made it through the spring and summer. Something didn’t feel right. He scrambled around the second boulder and continued looking for footprints, fur, large scat, or anything that would indicate the mother lion had been in the area. Nothing.
“I can’t spot anything up here.” Brock yelled. “Do you need me to come down?”
“It’s a tricky trail. Stay up there. Let me see if I can get ahold of it and bring it out.” Landon worked his way back across the boulders. He didn’t like the way pebbles, dust, and lichens fell as he climbed. By the time he reached the game trail again, sweat coated his palms and his heart pounded like a sledgehammer.
Lying down on the trail, Landon reached under the boulder. A set of sharp claws embedded themselves in his hand, and he bit back a yelp. It wasn’t nearly as painful as the owl had been less than a week earlier.
“You okay?” Brock shouted. “I’m coming down there.”
“Brock, hold on.” Landon grabbed hold of the cub’s leg. It was too thin, mostly skin and bone. It was a bit of a challenge to work his hand up the cat’s leg and get hold of the scruff of its neck. It bit weakly at him. Its teeth didn’t have enough force behind them to break his skin.
Once he had the struggling cub out of the cleft between the boulders, it was easy to see that its ribs stuck out of its sides, its coat was dirty, and its eyes were dull. “It’s been a while since you’ve had a meal, hasn’t it?” Landon shifted the cub in his grip so he could safely carry it back up the trail to Brock. His heart ached at its condition. “We’ve got a bit of a job set out for us to get you on your feet, little guy.”
“I’ve got it!” he called to Brock. “It’s in really bad shape.”
“Has it been attacked by something?”
“Starvation. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s been at least a week, maybe ten days since he’s had anything to eat. He’s too small to hunt anything more than mice, but up here there aren’t many of those.” Landon focused on his footing, his gaze darting from the cub in his hands to the trail and back as he walked slowly to the main hiking trail. “He’s probably been drinking what little water accumulates in the rocks in the morning. Otherwise he’d be dead by now.”
Elizabeth: That’s it for us this week. Thanks for joining us today, and don’t miss our next edition of Genre Talk, when I’ll be chatting with J.T. Rogers, who will be dropping by to tell us about his shiver inducing upcoming Historical Mystery/Suspense In from the Cold, available for preorder now! There is a rocket and a gun on the cover. You simply can’t go wrong with that combo!
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