Lisa: Please join us in welcoming author Renae Kaye. Renae joins us today to chat a bit about her new novel from Dreamspinner Press, Safe in His Heart.
Welcome, Renae. I’m going to start with a question that delves right into the heart of this book: what compelled you to explore the topic of religion in Safe in His Heart?
Renae: Because it’s relevant to Andrew’s story.
Look around us, Lisa. Every day there’s an article on my news feed that has to do with something about LGBT, and it’s usually sad news. Same-sex marriage debate, gay bashings, someone refused customer service, a suicide… and what is at the root of all of this? Religion.
In fact, I would say there is a marked lack of religion in our literature for how relevant it is to LGBT people. Most hatred and discrimination they face on a daily basis can be traced back to a religious reason. So does that mean that all LGBT people are non-religious? Not at all.
I had someone recently discuss this book with me and refer to what they call their “aha-moment.” Something that twigs in someone’s brain which they cling to as their reason to go against the tide. If you were brought up in the Church, and were told for years that you were wrong, an abomination, a sinner, there has to be something that made you continue to believe in God. This book is about Andrew’s journey.
I’m actually rather disappointed that religion isn’t explored more often in M/M Romance. When it is mentioned at all, it is usually someone who turns their back on religion, or it is mentioned in the context of the character that had accepted their struggle years ago. It is very rarely explored in the real time of the character’s growth within a story.
I really didn’t mean to “write a story about religion” and I would challenge anyone who thinks that this is what the story is about. I wrote a story about how one man went from being in the closet, to being out. His journey involved him exploring his sexual orientation against his beliefs. If a reader can’t acknowledge that LGBT people need to make this journey when they accept the person they are inside, then perhaps they need to stay away from this one.
Lisa: Knowing that religion can be as divisive a subject as politics, were you concerned going in that you might be writing a book which could touch a nerve, for better or worse, in some readers?
Renae: Yes, of course. That is why this book took me over a year to write, because I cast it aside so many times.
It was not an easy book to write. But I don’t shy away from hard subjects, just because I may touch a negative nerve in some readers. Because I truly believe that for every reader who turned away from a hard subject, there is a real person out there who is undergoing that exact journey which I hope my book will help.
When I wrote Safe in His Arms, I wrote about Casey who had been sexually abused as a teenager by his father. Wow. That was a really hard subject. I had some not-so-nice reviews about that part of the book. But the bit that those reviewers often missed, is the incidence in the public where this happens. Sexual abuse, child abuse, rape, depression, counselling. They happen. And I received a lot of grateful letters, emails and messages from readers who thanked me for tackling the hard subject.
This book will elicit negative responses. I know that. Some will find Andrew’s thinking to be the opposite of what their faith is. Some will think Andrew a fool for continuing to believe in God at all. That’s okay. Because we are all different. This is simply one man’s journey, and only a small part of that. His “aha-moment” is something that allows him to progress to the next part of his journey. Perhaps, in the future, he will think differently. I believe that faith is about growth itself. Your faith changes and transforms as we go through life.
How many people do you know who say “I used to be a Baptist/Mormon/Whatever, but then I changed.” People move in and out of faith. Often tragedy will bring someone to faith, or push them away. Safe in His Heart is merely a snapshot of Andrew’s life and journey.
Lisa: Having asked that, then, how much do you feel your own views on religion crept into the writing of the book? Or, did you try and approach the story from a more neutral standpoint?
Renae: I know that my own views didn’t, because my view of religion is something that is different from Paul’s or Andrew’s view point. But the book is not going to be neutral. It never could be. Because the story is from the character’s point of view.
I have interesting conversations with my editor, and this book had a lot more than usual. They usually go along the lines of:
Editor: This character said here that the sky is green. That’s wrong. The sky is blue.
Me: Yes. You and I both know that the sky is blue. But this is a character speaking/thinking. He thinks that the sky is green. I personally think that he’s wrong. But this book isn’t about me. It’s about him.
One such occasion occurred to do with gender discrimination in the story. One editor picked up Andrew’s thought where he said, “And I hired the best men for the job.” The editor suggested I write “best people” so that I was more politically correct. Hey – I’m all for political correctness. But this isn’t my book. In Andrew’s view of the world, the mining industry he works in is very male-orientated. He doesn’t think that the mining industry would deal favourably with women or LGBT people. It’s one of his reasons for staying in the closet. Andrew would not say “people” instead of “men.”
In order for the book to be neutral on the subject of religion, it would require a narrator to be describing each and every move the character made, then tempering it with reason that the character doesn’t have due to being involved. Sort of like David Attenborough’s voice-over explaining why one male lion is killing another. A narrator of this sort would be useful in not touching nerves, but it would be a really boring book.
But I consider religion to be like backing a particular football team. You will have a character who lives and breathes their team. He may make derogatory remarks about other teams. He made criticize every single player on the ground from the opposition, but turn a blind eye to his own team’s flaws. It doesn’t mean that the author’s goal in writing the book was to turn the readers into fans of this team. It was simply the character’s point of view. Of course there are going to be readers who go for the other team that was criticized. Of course there are going to be readers who don’t even follow football. But it doesn’t mean they can’t follow the story or the character.
Lisa: Tell us a little bit about your characters, Andrew and Paul. How were they conceived and how did they change and grow as you wrote their story?
Renae: Paul was conceived in Safe in His Arms. In any book, characters need friends and family around them. Firstly, it makes the world more realistic. And secondly, it gives the author an opportunity for the character to tell the reader more about their thoughts and actions by speaking them out loud to a second party. That’s a pretty unromantic view of writing – sorry.
But thirdly – and this only applies to Renae Kaye novels – I like to inject a bit of humour into situations, and my secondary characters can help this.
So Paul was created only to be a secondary character and to offset Lon. Therefore I gave him some not-so-nice habits – like falling in love with a married man – because Andrew wasn’t important to Lon’s story. I just wanted Paul to be realistic, and of course have something Lon could tease him about. Paul was never meant to have his own story. I was just supposed to shake my head at Paul and say, “Oh dear…”
So when my beta reader asked me about Paul’s story, I sat down and thought hard. Paul was pretty easy to get a firm grasp on his personality and character. He was well defined in Safe in His Arms. I’d written Paul already and I knew him. The problem was… Andrew.
Andrew. All I knew about him was (a) he was married, (b) he had two kids, (c) Paul met him at the gym, and (d) he didn’t mind cheating on his wife. Not such a good character. Not worthy to be a hero. I rejected the thought of writing a book about him. But then his character began to have more form. Until one day I sat down and asked myself, “What would make a gay man marry and have kids, and not reveal his gay side?”
Did I even have to think two seconds about that? Religion.
Before I start writing a story, I usually like to think about it for a good number of weeks. It just bobs along in the background my brain as I flesh out my characters, their looks, their personalities, their history, their silly habits. Pretty soon, without me knowing, I had Andrew’s background solidified. I knew him inside out. I knew he’d grown up with the sins of the Bible etched in his mind, and how that could warp a young man’s thinking. I could see he was desperately trying to “make himself straight.” I could see he loved his family and knew that coming out would hurt them and strain their relationship. I could see that he loved his children…
… I could see he was coming apart at the seams and would be an excellent character to write about. He’s inherently a good man. He’s just been dealt a shitty hand in life and has been doing his best to bluff it out.
Growth of a character is what makes a story. For this story, Paul had to hang on to a losing situation a lot longer than he’s ever had to before. For a man who’s had a pretty easygoing life, Andrew and his problems present a challenge. For Andrew, he’s got a lot of growth to get through before the end of the story. Yes, he changes. That’s the point. He needs to come to a balance in his mind about his sexual orientation, his public persona and his faith. All this makes a good story.
Lisa: What’s the one thing you hope readers will take away from the reading of Safe in His Heart?
Renae: I always write to entertain. Some of my books contain more humour than others. This is a form of entertainment. The Safe series of books has less humour in it, just because I’m trying to cater for a different audience. (Not everyone likes humour). There’s still some great one liners, and it never drags into depressing agony, because I’m just not that sort of writer, but it isn’t light hearted.
So basically, what I hope readers take away from the book is several hours of enjoyment, and happiness that Paul and Andrew found a common ground to stand on in the end.
As with reading any book, I also hope readers learn something. Even if it’s simply, “Isn’t that funny? Australians call elevators lifts. I’ll have to remember that.” I love to read books because there’s always something I pick up about a location I’m unfamiliar with, or a profession I don’t know.
I also hope to encourage people to not judge people on a single set of circumstances. I’ve seen assumptions that all people who are of Christian-based faith must be anti-LGBT. I assure you, this is not the case. There are plenty who reconcile their “gayness” with their faith. I would also urge people to not make snap judgements on gay men who’ve married women. You don’t know the circumstances behind the marriage or that man’s thinking. I hope people can see the character’s reasoning behind his actions. You don’t have to agree with his actions. Just like when that expendable character in the horror flick goes downstairs in her filmy negligee to check out that sound of breaking glass, you may wish to say “Why did she do that? She should’ve just…” But like any book or movie, we have the ability of time, logic, and knowing more than the character.
Lisa: Would you like to share an excerpt from the book with us?
Renae: Absolutely! **big grin** What good is writing a book if no one reads it?
I’ve chosen a short scene that readers may be familiar with from Safe in His Arms. In the first Safe book, Lon and Casey tease Paul about being morose and depressed with the fact that Andrew isn’t home for Christmas… Do you know what? I’ll just show you.
Excerpt, Safe in His Arms
“And you’ll never guess who came by last night. I mean, I totally forgot to tell you because it happened after I called you. Paul! Yeah. So, I’m getting ready for bed, and next thing he’s at the door, and I’m thinking, ‘Ah, shit. This ain’t good. Paul knows Lon’s away. I hope he isn’t coming around to try and hit on me.’ But then he’s all grumpy and everything, and I ask him what’s wrong. Next thing he’s blubbering about his man. You remember? The married guy? Well, it turns out that Andrew—that’s the guy’s name—told Paul that he’s going with his wife and kids on a trip over Christmas, and now Paul’s all broken up.”
Lon sprayed a mouthful of beer across the room. “What?”
“Yeah. I think Paul’s in love with this guy. So he cried into his beer for about forty-five minutes, then up and left. I have no idea what all that sharing was about. It totally weirded me out, man.”
Lon ended up ringing his best friend and talking to him for nearly an hour while Casey did the dishes and cleaned up. The sun had fallen by the time he finished with Paul, and Lon turned to Casey looking embarrassed.
“Shit. Sorry to ignore you. You’re right. Paul’s definitely nursing a broken heart. I didn’t mean to spend so long on the phone on my first night back. We should’ve been doing something else.”
Casey’s dick went from soft to hard in zero point three seconds. “Yeah? What is this something else you’re talking of? I’m not sure if I know it?”
Lon growled and stalked Casey through the small annex until he turned and ran into the caravan. “I’m not sure how to describe it, but I can tell you it requires a lot less clothing than we have on. So, how about we get naked and I show you?”
Then, 12 hours later in Safe in His Arms
Paul waited patiently by the front entrance and greeted them gaily.
“Merry Christmas, mateys. Isn’t it a wonderful morning?”
Casey frowned as he got in the back of the car, allowing Lon to ride up front. “Okay. Who are you and what have you done with the real Paul? You remember? The one that was upset and crying over a particular married man who he wouldn’t be seeing over Christmas?”
Paul pulled out into the light traffic and flipped Casey the bird. “That particular married man rang me this morning and told me how much he was missing me.”
Lon groaned. “Jesus, Paul. You need to dump the guy and find someone else. There’ll be nothing but heartache in this little scenario. Either he dumps you somewhere down the track and breaks your heart, or he dumps his wife for you, but spends the rest of his life mourning the loss of his children.”
“Or, he tells the wife about his little affair and she invites you to come and live with them,” Casey contributed from the back seat. “You can all be happy together. Three is a nice number in a marriage bed.”
He received the evil eye from Paul for his trouble. “Fine,” Paul sulked. “You all can be pissy on my happiness parade. But I know that somehow it’s going to work out.”
“Won’t,” Casey retorted.
“Will,” Paul denied.
“Bitch,” Paul said without any venom.
“Slut,” Casey said.
“Oi. Children,” Lon shouted. “Enough. Can we just go visiting without the two of you bickering? Jesus Christ. It’s like I was back in primary school and Dad’s taking us out.”
Paul chuckled, but Casey had the last word, sniping, “Are we there yet, Dad?”
I had a lot of fun writing that scene in the first book. But I always wondered what had transpired between Paul and Andrew that morning to change Paul’s blubbering into sunniness.
Excerpt, Safe in His Heart
He was stepping out of the shower when the phone rang. Paul slung a towel around his waist and reached for his mobile.
Andrew Lockwood calling.
“Hello?” Paul answered with his heart racing. Andrew was calling when he previously said he wouldn’t. Was there something wrong?
“Merry Christmas, Pony.” Andrew’s voice sent shivers down his spine, and Paul closed his eyes so he could concentrate on that mellow tone. Four days. Four fucking empty days, and he missed Andrew that much.
Paul chuckled. “Merry Christmas. I thought you weren’t going to phone me?”
“I know. But I’ve been missing you.”
A large lump began to form in Paul’s gut. Andrew was missing him? “You mean you’re missing my cock in your arse?”
He was deliberately crude. He didn’t want to feel all that sappy, happy emotion for a married man. Andrew was married. He had no right to be making Paul fall in love with him.
But Andrew didn’t beat around the bush. “No. I’m missing you. Not because of the sex, Paul. I’m missing the man too.”
Paul had to swallow several times before he could croak out, “Shit. I’m missing you too. How did this happen?”
He flopped down on the bed and contemplated the ceiling. Four days. That was all they could go before one of them broke.
Luckily Andrew didn’t need to ask what Paul meant by this.
“I know” was all Andrew said. They were both serious about it. It was something that just was. Like the moon was in the sky at night. There was no need to debate it because any person with eyes could see it.
The seconds ticked by, and to Paul’s amazement, it wasn’t uncomfortable. They were both happy to simply be connected by a phone call and listen to the breathing on the other end of the line.
Lisa: What do you love about this scene in particular?
Renae: This is the turning point in the story for Andrew and Paul. In the beginning, the only relationship between the men is sexual. It was supposed to be a one-off. Once to scratch that itch, and then move on. But things between them were so good, both kept coming back for more. Against their better judgement. Andrew would feel that it was too dangerous for his closet, and his coming to depend on Paul’s light banter in order for him to get him through his stressful days was beyond dangerous. For Paul, he didn’t want to want this married man. There was no future in it.
This scene, this moment, is the bit where both men admit that it’s something more. More than sexual. More than an itch. Something that may be worth fighting for and preserving. They both admit that they have something invested in this relationship. For that, I love them.
Lisa: Would you like to share some information on upcoming releases and current WIPs with us?
Renae: I’m actually in editing phase of a new book at the moment, which is a spin-off from Loving Jay. I’m having a LOT of fun with the writing and editing of this one. It’s funny and just damn fun to revisit Jay and Liam.
I anticipate this and one other release before Christmas.
On the writing front, I’m working on some 2017 release stuff. Writing is a little disjointed for me as I find the requirements of editing and promotion pull me out of “the zone” when I don’t want to be. As a result, I write several books all at the same time. This means that I really have no idea which one of them will be finished next.
Lisa: Thanks again for taking the time to chat, Renae. Will you tell readers where we can find you on the internet?
Renae: Thanks, Lisa. I’ve had a great time today. I really hope you enjoyed the book and that your followers will as well. You can find me:
About the Book
Series: Safe (Book Two)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 270 Pages
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska
Release Date: May 2, 2016
Blurb: Andrew and Paul learned about God and Jesus in different churches and realize their views of spirituality are worlds apart.
Andrew was raised Catholic and was told his homosexuality was a sin. For his entire life, he hid the truth. He married and had children to present a façade to the world—that of a straight man. It’s not until he has an affair with Paul, who shows him a different side of Jesus, that Andrew realizes he can be gay and still believe in God. Paul’s Jesus is one of acceptance and love, and in Paul’s church, being gay is not a problem.
For Paul and Andrew, falling in love is the easy part of their journey. They must make it through the fires of cheating, being discovered, Andrew’s wife leaving, the necessities of childcare and family life, the demands of their jobs, and working on their commitment to each other. Only then can they be safe in each other’s heart.