Today I’m talking to Kaje Harper about her new release, Tracefinder, and I could not be happier! Not only was I lucky enough to beta-read Tracefinder (spoilers, its really good!), but Kaje was one of the first people to welcome me into the M/M Romance community, and she really made me feel welcome. She’s a DRitC veteran and an incredibly prolific author, who is incredibly willing to support and reassure those of us who are newer to writing, taking time out from working on her own projects to answer our questions, share her experiences and give us advice or encouragement as needed.
I am continually impressed by Kaje’s willingness to help, educate and support others, whether it is on the forums of the M/M Romance Group and M/M Romance Writers, or in the YA LGBT Group which Kaje moderates. She is also generous with her fiction! Not only does Kaje regularly participate in the DRitC event, but she writes short fiction for the YA LGBT group as part of their regular challenges. I always enjoy Kaje’s insights and am looking forward to learning more about her, her new release and her writing.
Kaje, welcome! Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me during your busy release schedule.
Kaje: My busy release schedule? You just put out your own paranormal novel. I appreciate you giving me blog space to chat about my story (and thank you for the lovely intro!)
I suspect most of my readers are already familiar with you and your work, but please tell us a little bit about yourself!
Kaje: Um? Hi, I’m Kaje, and I’m addicted to writing… I’m a lifelong just-for-fun writer who turned into a published author about four years ago, and I’m having a great time as part of the M/M writing community. I have a wonderful husband, two college-age kids, some pets, a Young-Adult-Books group I moderate as a labor of love, and a biomedical day-job which I enjoy. Being busy, and not counting on the books for all my income, means I still write more for the fun of it than anything else. I’ve been really lucky and delighted to discover that there are readers willing to follow my stories wherever my muse takes us.
You write across a really fun mix of genres — contemporary and historical, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal … Even YA novels as Kira Harp! What do all your stories share? What can readers expect when they see Kaje Harper on a book cover?
Kaje: My goal is – realism, real characters, even when I’m writing fantasy settings. I love the romance genre, and I’m an optimist at heart, so I write happy endings. But at the same time, I try hard to create characters who are believable people, like someone you might know in your family or your town, or someone who might move in next door. I want my guys to work for their happiness, and earn it. I try to give them human, adult flaws, and let them fail sometimes, and have sex that isn’t pornstar-perfect.
What I want readers to get from my stories, most of all, is hope. I want them to see characters who are challenged by life, and who survive and reach for some happiness by working together. My guys don’t lose all their flaws by the end of the story; they just find ways to not be stopped by them. Because hope is best when you feel like the happy ending could really happen to you, or those you love. To real people.
How does Tracefinder fit these themes/your writing objectives?
Kaje: In Tracefinder, I found myself writing the most flawed men I think I’ve created yet. Certainly among the most ethically-challenged. Both these guys have major issues, and the obstacles between them are huge. In fact, as I started writing I wondered how their romance could ever work out. (I’m a pantser, so I never know in advance.) It turns out the answer, to be realistic, had to be “slowly”. At the end of the first book in this series, the guys are just feeling their way toward something real. It will take a couple more books to plausibly turn the wisps of hope they have now into a solid HEA.
One of the many cool things I found about Tracefinder was Brian’s finding powers. Where did the concept behind them come from?
Kaje: Two places. For one, I always wanted to write a book about someone with one of those public-good type powers – a healer, or a mind-reader (think what they could do for diagnosing illness in infants). Someone with a psychic talent that would have enormous use, far beyond what they could ever satisfy. How would they survive the knowledge that people get sick faster than they could heal them? How do they pick the critically ill kid with lymphoma or the mother of six with a heart attack, when they can only save one? How do they avoid being kidnapped by a Russian mobster who wants that healing talent at his beck and call?
And then, as I was writing my werewolves, who have the ability to find their mate psychically over a distance, I thought that a “Finder” might be a bit more unusual and fun to work with. And Brian said, “Hi. I Find guys for Mr. Marston. I don’t want to. Damon says I have to.” His voice changed. “Sometimes I think doing what Damon says may kill me.” And the book began…
On your author website, you say you have a soft spot for closeted cops with honest hearts. I think you conveyed that fondness exceptionally well in Tracefinder! After a few pages from Nick’s point of view, I was hooked on the story. How did Nick come into being?
Kaje: I don’t plan ahead, so my guys are created in my subconscious. I “meet” them as I write them. But Nick was intentionally going to be a guy in a terrible predicament, torn between a vital undercover operation and someone like Brian who activates all his protective instincts. He needed to be flawed enough to fail in both directions, as he tries to walk a middle road between effective cop and friend-who-might-be-more. And as I wrote him, his temper and impulsiveness became a facet of how he copes with the pressures in his life.
I think I remember seeing you saying on facebook that you found the cover image yourself, and it was the perfect match for Nick. Is that right? Tell us about the cover creation.
Kaje: A friend posted a website link on Facebook, to photographer Paul Henry Serres, who’d begun promoting his sensuous photos of men for book covers. I went browsing, because there are far too few good pictures of guys on stock sites. (Hence the multi-page lists of “overused cover guys” on Goodreads – at least 2 or 3 of my own covers are on those lists.)
As I was flipping through going “Nice. Very nice. Too much muscle. Great cheekbones. Too shiny. Ooooh,” I hit that black and white picture. The guy staring out at me, a bit defensively, a bit challengingly, was Nick.
It’s funny – I almost never have a visual of my guys ahead of time. (Once. And that guy was a bit older, receding hair, wounded soul – for Nelson & Caleb. Someday I’ll do his cover with the picture.) Anyway, I didn’t think I had any image of Nick in my head – more of a gestalt of who he is than what he looked like. But that photo was my Nick, down to the leather cuff on his wrist.
I had planned on a single guy per cover for this series, to match the slow, slow burn. But I hadn’t planned on shirtless (because low sex) and hadn’t intended to buy an exclusive (because cost). But I showed the picture to my editor, who said, “That’s Nick!” So I bought it, had a friend do the text, and I love it. A lot. Those eyes…
One of the things that really struck me about Tracefinder is the relationship between Nick and Brian. It’s layered by so many constraints — Nick’s role as a cop means that he has to gain Brian’s trust to get at his criminal family, while Brian knows better than to trust anyone. Nick’s also got the fear that he is taking advantage of Brian. You managed to show a strong bond developing, despite these constraints, producing a really tense story and a unique dynamic between your protagonists. Did you plan for that, or did it develop as the story did?
Kaje: Some of that was planned from the start – going in, they were clearly starting on opposite sides of the law. In fact, I worried about them ever getting together, because Nick’s self-image is so heavily tied to being a good cop. And to be with Brian, sometimes he has to be a pretty bad cop. But his protective streak, that is the deepest motivation behind everything he values in himself, including his law-enforcement career, fixes on Brian as a victim, not a criminal. I knew the tensions would be tough to overcome, and I was almost impressed that my subconscious found a way to achieve even a tentative Happy For Now ending.
Another incredible thing about Tracefinder was the many layered relationships between the characters, in particular Brian and his siblings. I know there is a sequel planned, and you won’t want to give too much away, but will we be seeing more of Brian’s family?
Kaje: Absolutely. I know some readers are unhappy about how unresolved the storyline is for Brian’s siblings in books one. Actually, given how completely the main mystery and police case is resolved, I take it as a compliment that people are so interested in Damon and Lori that they feel like the mystery ending is incomplete. They will be back in the next book.
There are so many interesting facets to Tracefinder that I’m curious about how the story came to be. Did the concept come first or the characters?
Kaje: Usually for me it’s characters. A guy, or two guys, in a scene, or speaking a line of conversation. I set fingers to keyboard and find out what the hell is going on… In this case, the concept of a Finder, reluctantly working for a criminal shaped, Brian’s first appearance.
What was the writing process like? Is this different to how you usually write?
Kaje: I’m a very linear writer. I start at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop. I don’t outline, or create character bibles, although I keep notes as I go, so once I say “his blue eyes” the eyes stay blue thereafter. My first draft is usually about 90 to 95% of the final book, although the edits and tweaking are a long process, as I try to polish the book on paper to almost match the shining story in my head.
This book was the same, except maybe for the moment, about 90K into the book, when I realized it had to be a series, because I was going to be lucky to get these guys in the same room, let alone the same bed, at the end of one volume.
You’ve had a really busy 2015! What was the highlight?
Kaje: Writing Chasing Death Metal Dreams has to be high on my list – I’d wanted to do a story with a transgender main character for a while, but didn’t quite have the nerve to believe I could do it right. Seeing the prompt on the summer Don’t Read in the Closet event, waiting and waiting for an author, was the jump-start I needed. The tight timeframe for the writing event meant the book was perhaps not the most polished it could have been, but I’m proud of it, and of the reviews where people said this was their first trans MC and they liked it. And it has won a couple of awards.
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
Kaje: Writing Tracefinder Book 2 is high on my list. Brian is still talking in my head, and Nick wants to know what comes next. I love when the words are flowing fast. In fact I had to write a bit of the first chapter, before I was done with my current project (Hidden Wolves #4) to shut them up enough to finish this one.
I’m also looking forward to attending GayRomLit in Kansas City in October (I hope – getting an author slot is always luck of the draw.) It’s been wonderful each year to meet people and feel the way the M/M community comes together.
What is the best way for people to keep up with your news and releases?
Kaje: I post news and releases on my blog, so either coming on by the blog now and then, or following by email (there’s a button for that) is probably your best bet – https://kajeharper.wordpress.com/
Excellent. Thank you, Kaje!
Kaje Harper grew up in Montreal, and spent her teen years writing, filling binders with stories. But as life got busy, the stories began to just live in her head. The characters grew, met, endured, and loved, in any quiet moment, but the stories rarely made it to paper. Her time was taken up by work in psychology, teaching, and a biomedical career, and the fun of raising children.
Eventually the kids became more independent and her husband gave her a computer she didn’t have to share. She started putting words down in print again, just for fun. Hours of fun. Lots of hours of fun. The stories began piling up, and her husband suggested if she was going to spend that much time on the keyboard she ought to try to publish one. MLR Press accepted her first submission, the M/M mystery Life Lessons, which came out in May 2011. Kaje now has many novels and short stories published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year, and a selection of free short stories and novels in a variety of gay romance genres, available on Smashwords and elsewhere. She currently lives in Minnesota with a creative teenager, a crazy omnivorous little white dog, and a remarkably patient spouse.