Finding Balance with Kelly Jensen + Giveaway

January 12, 2017

Finding Balance with Kelly Jensen

 

When I sit down to write a book, I don’t necessarily ponder themes. I usually start with a voice. A character will start whispering to me, their voice growing louder as the idea for that character slowly coalesces in my head. I then try to tell their story. It isn’t until afterward that I think about themes. One is always loud and clear. It has to be; otherwise my story would be pointless. It’s when I’m revising and refining that I usually uncover the other themes, and these are often like little messages from my subconscious—especially when they’re things that crop up in all my stories.

The theme I began with for Block and Strike, the reason I wanted to tell this story, was finding confidence. I started with fairly broad strokes, one being the title.

 

Block and Strike Teaser

Max has been blocking (or failing to block) for most of his life. Jake has been striking. In other words, these guys are struggling. They’re prolonging the fight. Jake is supposed to know better, but sometimes we only remember how something works when we explain it to others. It’s in helping Max that Jake puts all the pieces together. Coordinated moves take more confidence and that’s what self-defense is all about: learning the moves, practicing them until they’re second nature, and then trusting your instincts—which is about the same as finding confidence. You have to trust who you are.

What if you don’t know yourself, or don’t like who you are?

Well, that’s another journey and another major theme in Block and Strike. Accepting yourself is something I write about a lot. It took me a long time to accept myself. I still have a few questions… and I know I’m not alone. Life is a series of questions, and so many of them are directed inward. While I can be philosophical about a lot of it now, at Max’s age (21) or even Jake’s age (26) I did a lot of mental and physical flailing. Life can hurt, and figuring out who you are, and then being okay with that, requires some bruising and scarring.

Max is ashamed of his sexuality and his perceived weakness. Jake is ashamed of the incident that landed him in jail, and the decisions that led up to it. Both of these guys need to recognise their strengths and accept their weaknesses. Learn that both of these aspects are important. That everything they are has value—which leads me to the third theme in Block and Strike, the hidden one I didn’t see until all was said and done: yin and yang, or balance.

 

Jake's Tattoo

Once identified, it’s obvious. I poke at it everywhere, from the lopsided beginning of the story to the house of cards set off by certain events toward the end. It’s in the opposing personalities of my heroes: Max is quiet and shy, Jake is loud and outgoing. It’s in their living spaces: Max’s apartment is a hole in the ground, Jake’s is nice and full of light. They even have a conversation about balance when Max discovers Jake’s tattoo:

 

Excerpt:

Max smoothed his hands across the patterned skin, over the circle of two fish, each chasing the tail of the other. One was outlined in sinuous strokes of black ink, the other almost all black, unmarked skin forming the outline and suggestion of movement. Max had seen the design before, but not with fish. One dark, one light.

“Is this a yin and yang symbol?” Max traced the outline of the darker fish, his finger running over a strip of smooth, unmarked skin.

Jake glanced over his shoulder, as if he’d forgotten he even had a tattoo. His cheek rounded as he smiled. “Yeah.”

“Do the fish mean anything?”

“I liked the idea of one driving the other, or chasing. It could be either, right? That’s what balance is about. Movement. Life isn’t a spectator sport.” Leaning forward, Jake braced against the wall, hands flattened against the tile. “It’s also me, in a way. I spent a lot of time wondering who I was when I was younger. I guess we all do. Being attracted to both guys and girls had me spinning in place a little longer than most, I suppose. When I got the tattoo, it was my way of making peace with the duality of being, of not being what I sometimes appear to be.”

Max’s post-coital state lent both more and less meaning to Jake’s explanation. On the one hand, he understood it perfectly, and the confession—if it had been that—warmed him. He wasn’t the only guy to struggle with his identity. On the other hand, he didn’t get it at all. Jake was the strongest guy he knew. The most settled and even. He saw no yin to his yang, or vice versa. But he did appreciate the fact Jake had a new depth to him, a thoughtful, almost philosophical nature that made absolute sense. This was why Jake was kind and good. Why he took the time to do things right. Why he breathed easily and contentedly. Why he laughed and sang. Why he seemed to be such a complete person.

Jake turned around and slid his hands around Max’s shoulders. He didn’t pull Max into a hug, just rested with him in a loose and easy embrace. “We’re all struggling, Max. Each and every one of us. Every day. Some of us just hide it better. Or cope better.” He moved one hand up over Max’s shoulder to caress his neck, the underside of his jaw. “You’re going to get there before I do.”

Max shook his head.

An easy smile pulled at Jake’s full mouth. “Oh, yeah, you are, and I’m gonna be the one clinging to your coattails. I’m going to ride up with you.”

“Why?”

The hand at his jaw tipped his chin up so Jake could lean in to meet his lips. “Because that’s what I want to do.”

Not a philosophical answer, but honest.

***

I love this scene. It’s one I considered cutting on and off because it’s one of those quiet moments that maybe didn’t really need to be on the page. But every time I read over it, the idea of balance and self-acceptance resonated so strongly that I had to keep it. This is my story, right here. This short scene basically covers every theme in the book and I didn’t really recognise it for what it was until later. Some part of me knew it was important, though, just as Jake—while still struggling—gets it and wants to pass the idea on to Max.

Sometimes we don’t really know why we’re struggling or what we’re fighting for, but we do it anyway, because that’s what accepting yourself and finding balance is all about.

 

Reader question: What are your favourite themes in fiction and romance? What kinds of stories resonate most deeply with you? Comment for a chance to win an ebook from my Dreamspinner Press backlist!

Check out Block and Strike today!

 

Block and Strike by Kelly Jensen

Blurb:

Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.

Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.

Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.

 

About Kelly Jensen:

Kelly Jensen was born in Australia and raised everywhere else. Currently, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and herd of four cats. After disproving the theory that water only spins counterclockwise around drains north of the equator, she turned her attention to more productive pursuits such as reading, writing, writing about reading, and writing stories of her own. She also enjoys volunteering at her local library, playing video games, and holds a brown belt in Kiryoku, a martial art combining Shotokan, Aikido, and Tang Soo Do. Her family is not intimidated by her.

Twitter: @kmkjensen
Website: kellyjensenwrites.com
Facebook www.facebook.com/kellyjensenwrites

 

10 Responses to “Finding Balance with Kelly Jensen + Giveaway”

  1. dee says:

    I like stories that have a deeper meaning. If it’s just a superficial plain vanilla story I lose interest fast. If it’s a well written story with an interesting plot then I’m on board.
    As for topics, I like contemporary settings with fantasy/supernatural elements. I also won’t say no to a good detective story with a bit of romance.

  2. Jen F says:

    I like themes that involve characters overcoming obstacles, finding their own strength and learning to accept/love themselves and others.

    Thanks for the post! I look forward to reading Block and Strike.

  3. Tanja says:

    I like stories that have developing characters, that are maturing. Gaining strength through hardshipa. Doesn’ t have to be super heavy, but realisric. Even better when they grow together, that they are supportive of each orher.
    Tankie44 at gmail dot com

  4. Ami says:

    My favorite theme is always a ‘personal journey’ of some kind. I love it when the characters start the beginning of the story at one point, and end up at another when I reach the end. Not just about the romance, but can also about accepting yourself, or finding your inner strength, or more welcoming towards love, life, and friends. Things like that resonates A LOT with me

    amie_07(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. Kelly says:

    Yes to all of these! Great responses.

  6. Debra Guyette says:

    I enjoy enemies to lovers. Emotional connection is what I really like.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

  7. Kelly says:

    Enemies to lovers is so hard to pull off, but I love it when it’s done well!

  8. Shirley Ann Speakman says:

    I enjoy stories that have the MC’s work for their happiness and love second chance lovers stories especially if one on the couple has had a long time crush on the other and they meet again.

  9. Lisa says:

    Friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, & hurt/comfort are some of my most favorites; however I’m an equal opportunity reader – I’ll read anything that interests me. legacylandlisa(at)gmail(dot)com

  10. Kelly says:

    This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for all the comments!

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