Spark: Release Party & Sensitive Topics

September 2, 2013

As I finish up my release party today, I’m getting ready to send my daughter off to middle school, one of those things that many parents dread. It’s more scary than it is to release a new book out into the wild, but I’m so glad you’ve been here to help me celebrate this wonderful day. Thank you. I’ll give you another little taste from Spark, one that deals with family, but first, I’d like to talk about sensitive subject matter.

I’m used to writing about sensitive issues, controversial topics, and even kinks that are squick-worthy to some, but not to all. When I wrote Spark, knowing from the start that it was going to be a trilogy inspired by something that actually happens in Fusion of North Star (book 2), I knew I was going to need to touch on sensitive topics.

Bisexuality. What? How is bisexuality a sensitive issue? To me, it’s not, but it is often one of the less visible letters in GLBT. And there are a lot of assumptions made about bisexuals that are far from true. Kevin Magnus just so happens to be bi. When we meet him in high school, he’s only dated girls. He’s never even been attracted to boys, until he meets Hugo Thorson. (Ooo, just writing that makes me excited! Self-discovery is wonderful.)

Kids. Wait. Before you run away, please hear me out. Over the years I’ve heard people talk about their dislike of kids in fiction. Spark (and all of North Star) is not centered around kids, but Kevin does have children who are part of the story. No matter what, Kevin is their dad, and one of his internal struggles his entire life has been to not turn into his distant father. Kevin would never abandon his children, so his kids are present. I’ve occasionally been the reader who rolls her eyes when a three-year-old talks like she’s twenty-three, but hopefully my child development degrees have helped me create kids who act developmentally appropriate.

The over-arching theme of North Star is family. I use that term loosely at times, meaning community, neighborhoods, and chosen family. I also use it in the more formal sense: family of origin as well as the family you create when you move away from your family of origin.

As an adult, Hugo’s family (aside from his mom and sister) really consists of Summer and Gilbert. Summer is Hugo’s best friend who is practically a sister, and Gilbert is the friend who understands Hugo in a way he doesn’t even know himself.

Kevin’s family consists of his almost-ex-wife Erin and their two kids, Brooke (10) and Finn (5). Brooke and Finn meet Hugo, who isn’t sure he wants anything to do with kids, and Summer, who is a kindergarten teacher that thinks kids are the greatest thing on earth. So how do you start a romance between a guy who’s not sure he even likes kids and a man who already has two kids of his own? You’ll have to read.

Separation/Divorce. That’s the third sensitive topic Spark deals with. Kevin is weeks away from finalizing his divorce when he meets up with Hugo seventeen years after their high school romance ended. Erin and Kevin have both agreed to start dating other people. Their romance was over long before Kevin asked for a divorce. They’d had a loveless marriage for years, and Erin even buys him a box of condoms (scene from book 2, Fusion), reminding him how often newborns wake up in the middle of the night. Erin is dating as well, so neither Erin nor Kevin see dating as cheating because of their agreement.

Erin is part of this story as well. She needs to be, because Kevin and Erin are still raising their kids together. That parenting relationship doesn’t dissolve as easily as a marriage does, or at least that’s the hope, even if in real life that happens a lot.

I truly enjoy writing about more than just a couple. I like writing about all the people surrounding the couple, because they make life richer, more complicated, and certainly more colorful. I can’t help but think of the saying “No man is an island” right now. It’s very true. We are shaped by the people around us and our experiences with them. I find writing about all those players to be very rewarding, and I believe it gives readers a richer understanding of the characters they get to know in fiction.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 16 where Kevin and Hugo’s families meet.

As Hugo and Kevin chopped a variety of veggies to wrap in foil packets for the grill and Summer added seasoning, the adults took some time getting to know each other, covering what they did for work and fun as well as where they were originally from. They inevitably tried to play Six Degrees of Separation with the people they knew from the various towns in Minnesota they’d each lived in over the years but could only come up with one connection which seemed to be at least eight degrees away. Unless you counted Myles, but they didn’t.

“I should get Brooke and Finn down here. I put in The Princess Bride so we could have a few uninterrupted adult minutes. You ready to meet them?” he directed at Hugo and Hugo alone.

He finished a swallow of wine and nodded. “Sure.”

Kevin climbed the stairs two at a time, Hugo watching after him, unable to keep from noticing how Kevin’s pants seemed to hug him in all the right places. And the bare feet on the wooden stairs distracted him again, so he missed Summer’s patter of conversation beside him. Kevin disappeared around the corner, no longer visible from the dining area where they were now seated. Hugo’s knee started bouncing, and Summer pressed a warm, calming hand to it.

“You’re not here on an interview to be their dad, okay?” she reminded him. “You’re just an old friend. Nothing else, so don’t work yourself up.”

“You’re right,” he whispered. “You’re always right.” He took a deep breath and slowly let it out through his nose, relaxing the muscles in his neck at the same time. With all the thinking he’d done in the last day about their past, his feelings for Kevin seemed to be reignited and burning white-hot, but he couldn’t get ahead of himself. “What do you think so far?” he asked, beyond curious.

“He’s hot and nice. His smile is amazing, and so are his gray eyes.”

Grey, ringed in midnight, he thought and was glad he’d kept his description to himself. “Okay, I already know all that. What do you think of him?”

“So far, so good. He seems… kind, warm. But I’m withholding my judgment like you asked me to. I’m going to give him the whole night until I’m even going to let myself go there and just be your best friend, okay?” Hugo nodded and took a quick, nervous sip. “Really, I’ve spent most of my time watching you, so far. Considering you haven’t seen him since you were eighteen, barring the other night, I’d think you guys had known each other forever. Well, except for the little moment you had back there where you were drooling over him.”

Hugo threw a cocktail napkin at Summer’s face and shook his head, ready to start berating her for being too harsh when a tall but slight girl with waist-length dark hair slowly walked down the stairs as if she had just woken up from a nap. Behind her, following quickly, was a cherubic-faced, strawberry-blond boy who easily overtook her. Kevin trotted down in bouncy movements to land at the bottom of the stairs at the same time as the girl.

“Brooke and Finn, I’d like you to meet my good friend Hugo and his friend Summer.”

The children were very polite, saying, “Pleased to meet you,” in unison. Obviously Kevin’s father had ingrained good manners into these kids before he died. More likely, it was Kevin and his ex, Hugo corrected his thoughts. Kevin rested his large hands on his kids’ shoulders in what seemed like a comforting gesture and gently squeezed when they spoke. All his motions did was distract Hugo from the children and draw all attention to Kevin’s hands. When had they gotten to be so big? The sight took his mind to dirty places it shouldn’t be while meeting children.

Hugo returned to pleasantries as best he could but was more than relieved when the teacher side of Summer came out, naturally moving the conversation on to things the kids were engaged in. It was as if a switch had been flipped, and Kevin’s kids came to life, talking animatedly and pulling Summer into the backyard to show her their sea glass collection.

“Sea glass?” Hugo asked Kevin skeptically. “Don’t you need a sea for that?”

“It’s just tumbled glass they find washed up on the beach. They love the stuff, and we spent most of today digging in the sand. I think Brooke wants to make some jewelry for her friend. Something about BFF necklaces, whatever those are. Finn just likes to dig in the sand and water. He’d be just as happy finding fish skeletons and chunks of concrete.”

“Best friends forever,” Hugo informed, but Kevin looked at him with a very puzzled expression on his face. “BFF means ‘best friends forever.’ Just thought I’d help decode the kid-speak for you.”

“Thanks. They say things I have no clue about sometimes. Well, at least Brooke does. Finn isn’t quite there yet, but Brooke is using abbreviations that make no sense to me half the time. I just figured out what ‘LOL’ meant on our drive back to the lake.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I’m kinda pathetic when it comes to pop culture.”

“Well, I can help with that,” Hugo flirted, smiling over his wine glass as he took another sip. “They seem like great kids. I have two nieces. The youngest is about Brooke’s age, but the oldest is getting into the testy teen years. Nothing seems to please her unless it’s related to technology. Sometimes I just end up texting her while in the same room to draw her out. It’s unconventional, but worth doing to be a part of her life.”

“Do you see them much?”

“Yeah. Quite often. Charisse and her family live in Robbinsdale, right on Twin Lake. I’m their unofficial baby-sitter and chauffeur when she or her husband needs help. They’re almost too old for a baby-sitter now, but I go and hang out with them.”

“So you’re good with kids?”

“I’m… I’m good with my nieces because I know them,” Hugo answered with uncertainty in his tone due to his lack of confidence in where the conversation was going. “I mean. I don’t have a ton of experience with kids aside from the girls. It’s hard to say if I’m good with kids or not based on nieces I held before they were even an hour old. They’ve never not known me.”

“Well, don’t be intimidated by my kids. Brooke is a bit slow to warm up to new people, but once she does, you won’t be able to get her to stop talking about things that interest her. Not so much about herself. And Finn is pretty much a bundle of energy all the time, but easily entertained.”

“I’m sure Summer will be able to keep up with them.”

“It already looks like it. She seems to know you really well,” Kevin observed.

“Yeah. Probably better than anyone aside from my sister.”

Kevin sipped his wine and took a quick look down toward the water. Hugo looked as well and saw Summer and the kids huddled over what must’ve been the beach glass. Summer picked up a piece of something cobalt-blue and held it up to the sun. Brooke’s face lit up, and Hugo watched as she animatedly told a story he couldn’t hear, but he suspected from all her pointing and mimed swimming that Brooke had seen the piece deep in the water and had to dive to get her hands on it. Summer beamed, smiling and laughing. Finn seemed to try to get in on the retelling of the story, but Brooke rolled her eyes and sat next to Summer while Finn took center stage. Hugo loved watching Summer with kids.

I’ve lived away from my hometown and family since right after my eighteenth birthday, so I’ve had to create a chosen family. I have friends nearly 20 years younger as well as 20 years older and everything in between. What sort of people make up your own chosen family?

This is the last chance to enter to win by commenting. I’ll post winners tomorrow. Thank you so much for allowing me to play with you today. I hope you enjoy Spark as much as I enjoyed writing it, and look for Fusion coming out sometime in November.

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