Jen: Today we welcome debut author Kara Braden to Romancing the Book for day four of our anniversary celebration. Kara, will you share a short bio with us?
Kara: Let’s see. For some reason, I’ve lived in Arizona for the last twenty-plus years, even though I can’t stand heat or sunlight. I’ve got a loving husband, three sweet dogs, two adorable cats, and one cat who keeps faking his death just to make sure I’m paying attention. Together, we play computer games, hunt scorpions, and keep accidentally remodeling the house.
Online, I can be found at:
- My blog, www.karabraden.com
- Twitter, @karabraden
- Tumblr, karabraden.tumblr.com
- Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/kara_braden
- Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/karabradenauthor
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Kara: The Longest Night is a story of love in isolation. The idea came to me when I was asked to write a story about a character in Canada. Living outside Phoenix means I never get to see snow, so my mind instantly went to the coldest, most remote part of Canada, full of snow and pine trees and the occasional bear. From there, I just had to think about what type of person would live in that sort of isolation, and the rest of the story wrote itself.
I’m a pantser, not a planner—meaning I write by the seat of my pants, rather than outlining. Because of that, I was deep into my characters’ heads, thinking “What would they do next? What happens in the next two minutes? Five minutes? Hour?” So the story is a step-by-step progression of their love, without following any formula or plan. It’s very organic, and I hope that believability really appeals to readers. I know I enjoyed writing it!
“Damn. That reminds me…” He rubbed his jaw, watching her put two ham steaks into a frying pan. “Have you got any razors? I forgot to order some.”
She looked over and couldn’t help but smile a bit at the hint of gold stubble over his jaw. “You could skip it for a day or two.”
“You don’t want to see me try to grow a proper beard,” he said with a laugh. “Anything—even some horrid pink razor?” he asked, walking up to look into the frying pan.
She let out a laugh and handed him the spatula. “Yes, because so much of what I own is pink,” she challenged, thinking of her father’s old things, stored in a box in the basement. “Stay here. Watch breakfast.”
He looked at her curiously but didn’t ask where she was going. He just went to get plates out of the cupboard, keeping one eye on the ham steaks.
At the bottom of the steep, narrow staircase, she turned on the light. She had her washing machine and an old gas dryer down here, along with her tools and a single trunk that had traveled with her from college to base housing to a Stateside storage locker while she’d been deployed. She wasn’t one to keep mementos, except for the contents of the old trunk.
Her father’s razor was old but stored carefully in oiled cloth to protect it from rust. It was nothing fancy—not a carved ivory heirloom—but she remembered being fascinated by it as a child. She used to sit and watch him shave every morning before he’d gone off to work. Later, when she came home on weekends during college, she used to shave him, sparing him the indignity of shaky hands or the electric razor he hated. The hospice had sent it to her with his effects; the package had been waiting for her at the base when she’d been flown home on emergency compassionate leave.
Now, she opened the trunk to get the box with her dad’s old razor and the rest of his shaving kit. After last night, she was surprisingly comfortable with the idea of lending the heirlooms to Ian, though he’d been a stranger less than two weeks ago.
* * * * *
Ian was getting better at cooking on cast iron, though none of the pancakes were precisely round and one was markedly frayed at the edges from when he’d tried to skimp on oil. Still, Cecily was kind enough not to mention it, and she even complimented him on having finally gotten the coffee strong enough without letting it turn bitter.
“So, any ideas, or am I attempting to grow a beard for the first time since I was seventeen?” Ian asked as he helped Cecily bring the dishes to the sink.
She nodded in the direction of the cardboard box she’d brought up from the basement. “Found my dad’s old shaving kit. Will that do?”
Ian was intrigued; she hadn’t mentioned her family at all. He went to the box and opened it, expecting to find an old-fashioned metal safety razor and maybe an ancient, rusting red and white can of Barbasol. Instead, at the top of the box, he found a second thin cardboard box, the ends tearing. Inside was a piece of oiled cloth wrapped around an old straight razor, blade gleaming.
“The strop should be under there,” Cecily said as she started running the water in the sink. “You can use the bar soap in the bathroom. It should lather up just fine.”
“Wonderful,” Ian said uncertainly. He considered pretending that he actually knew what he was doing, but he’d never so much as touched a straight razor in his life. He glanced over at Cecily and said, somewhat embarrassed, “This is a little awkward, but I have no idea how to avoid cutting off anything important with a straight razor.”
“Oh.” Cecily glanced over at him, pushing a strand of hair out of her face with the back of her wrist. “If you want, I can…help.”
Ian held back his instinctive refusal. He didn’t like anyone near him with sharp objects. “You have used a straight razor before?”
“Of course,” she answered as if it should be obvious. She dried her hands and took the razor out of his hands. “If you finish the dishes, I’ll make sure it’s sharp enough.”
“Comforting,” Ian muttered and took her place at the sink. He rolled up his sleeves and picked up the scrub brush.
Cecily grinned at him and took the box to the kitchen table, where she started to unpack the contents. “I used to do this for my dad, after he had a stroke.” She moved one of the chairs over to the stove, and then crossed the room to flip the light switch on. “Would you set a small pot of water to warm? I don’t want to run the water heater empty.”
Ian found her smallest pot, filled it, and put it on the stove. He wanted to ask for details about her father, but they were still essentially strangers, even after last night. God, she’d been beautiful and brave, allowing him to coax her body to heights of pleasure that had seemed to catch her by surprise. He couldn’t wait for another chance to see what else she hid under her reserved, quietly competent facade.
He finished up the dishes, listening as she moved through the kitchen and bathroom. She stacked a couple of hand towels on the counter, checked the water, and then moved the pot off the stove. “Almost ready,” she told him.
He turned to watch her hang a broad strop from the pantry doorknob. It was leather with a canvas backing. He watched, confused, as she started to run the straight razor back and forth over the canvas side with a soft whisper of sound.
At Ian’s curious look, she explained, “I’m just making certain it still has an edge. Have a seat.”
“You don’t have to do this,” he told her as he sat down by the warm stove.
“It’s no trouble.”
He took a deep breath and told himself that she wouldn’t be offering if she didn’t know exactly what she was doing. She was self-confident enough to admit when she was out of her depth. He could trust her.
After a few more passes of the razor, this time over the leather side of the strop, she crossed back to the counter. She put down the razor so she could soak a towel in the pot of warm water. “Lean back. Or would you rather get the desk chair from the living room? That can’t be comfortable.”
“It’s fine,” he assured her, slouching down. He folded his hands in his lap and tipped his head back, waiting.
Jen: Let’s talk dinosaurs: Jurassic Park vs. Land Before Time?
Kara: Jurassic Park, because it’s got built-in romance. Have you seen the wedding velociraptor? Isn’t she just gorgeous in her pretty veil?
Jen: What drew you to this genre?
Kara: I didn’t even realize I was writing romance! I was just writing stories about realistic people developing realistic relationships, one step at a time. Years ago, when a friend tried to get me to write romance, she told me the formula: first kiss by chapter X, heavy petting by chapter Y, and so on. I hated the idea, so I never even looked at romance. Thankfully, I learned that romance novels come in all sizes, shapes, and non-formulary versions!
Jen: Secret recipe for the best cup of coffee?
Kara: 1. Beans roasted to taste between one and seven days ago.
2. Fresh reverse osmosis water heated to just below boiling.
3. Grind 2.5 scoops (the kind that comes with a Bodum French press) in a conical burr grinder set two ticks above medium coarseness.
4. Steep in an open French press for 3-4 minutes. After 1 minute, stir at the top to get the floating grinds agitated.
5. Plunger the top of the French press down and let it rest for 1 minute to settle the solids.
6. Carefully pour into a thermos, leaving about an inch behind so you don’t get too much gunk. Don’t leave it in the French press, or it’ll just get bitter and nasty.
7. Have a velociraptor on hand to defend your coffee from anyone who might want to steal a taste.
8. Enjoy with cinnamon rolls or ice cream. Either is perfectly appropriate for breakfast. Do share with the velociraptor. It’s only polite, and it has fangs.
Jen: Arizona is a long way from Long Island. How do you cope so far from civilization?
Kara: I spend my summer evenings hunting scorpions with a blacklight flashlight and a spatula and mostly hide indoors, writing. Occasionally, I cry over the lack of good bagels. And good Chinese food. And good pizza… There’s quite a bit of crying involved, actually.
Jen: Book vs. film adaptation?
Kara: Book, always! Except with comics/graphic novels. I really don’t enjoy reading comics or graphic novels, but I love Marvel’s movies. Between the Winter Soldier and Rocket the Raccoon, I think I’m in love with raccoons with machine guns.
Jen: How did your early career prepare you for writing a novel?
Kara: I was a technical writer in the semiconductor industry for ten years, on and off, and I learned two very important things: First, attention to detail saves lives. When writing, whether it’s instructions to maintain a chemical delivery system or a steamy love scene, I try to keep all the details in mind. I’m only human, so sometimes I miss, but I love those details. Second, keep it simple! A lot of our equipment was shipped overseas, so I was writing for both foreign and domestic readers. In my writing, I try to stay reader-friendly and save the evocative words for when they’ll have the most impact. I’d like to think that my readers can immerse themselves in the story to the point where the words disappear under the mental pictures I’m painting.
Jen: Most important quality for a video game in order to get your attention?
Kara: I love a good backstory. Give me details and character motivations, and I’m hooked.
Jen: Tell us about your fur babies…in alphabetical order.
Kara: They’re all rescues! Chell is my needy, food-lovin’ Aussie cattle dog mix, from the pound. Darian is my hugs-lovin’ chow/golden/Aussie mix who’s kind of a wimp. Kajka (pronounced KAZH-kuh) the Evil White Kitty is named for a dear friend’s World of Warcraft character. Magryth, abbreviated to Mags, is Evil White Kitty’s sister, named after one of my WoW characters. Mal, short for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, is our black lab mix puppy, who just had his first birthday. And Neo is my thirteen-year-old cat who keeps faking his own death about twice a year, just to make sure we’re paying attention.
Jen: Sand vs. snow — was The Longest Night’s setting randomly chosen or was it wishful thinking?
Kara: Snow! Wishful thinking all the way. I miss snow!
Jen: Favorite superhero?
Kara: Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, movie version. He went from being Steve Rogers’ guardian to Captain America’s second-in-command to his nemesis—and then his savior. Plus the actor, Sebastian Stan, is fantastic.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Kara: The Deepest Night is coming out in December 2014. It’s the story of a former Royal Marine who’s recovering from a rough mission as a military contractor and a woman who lost her beloved Long Island bed and breakfast to a storm and treachery. He thinks he prefers short, attachment-free relationships, and she believes she’s the “plain brown bird” surrounded by much more exotic, interesting beauties. Needless to say, they both discover just how wrong they really are.
In some sort of weird cosmic reversal (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere), my snowy winter-in-Canada book comes out in July, and my semi-tropical-island-in-July book comes out in December. These books really are the perfect antidotes to a hot summer and a cold winter!