An estimated 1 in 6 men are survivors of sexual abuse, and yet I feel that I see them rarely as romance heroes. Not as often as I see similar backstory for romance heroines, anyway. I met Dante while working on the first book in my Evergreen Grove new adult series. There he was–a proud, strong, Puerto Rican boxer who had been abused by his former coach, and knew I needed to write his story. What came out was, for me, a heartwarming, romantic, and even humorous story of this man and the wounded college girl he meets, and how they both start to rebuilt their lives–together.
In Acts of Creation, both the hero and heroine have both experienced sexual violence. It felt weird at first, the idea of giving two characters the same baggage. Then I realized it was exactly what I needed. Or rather, it was what Dante needed. My alpha male boxer was fighting hard even outside of the ring to prove he was just fine thank you very much, because he didn’t feel he could talk to a single person about the pain on the inside. The one person who could get through to him was one he trusted to understand. And Michelle, Dante’s heroine? Because she understood his struggles so intimately, she cared about him as a person, not as a heavyweight boxing champion.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite book when you’re a writer, because you really do love them all (at least I do). But I believe Acts of Creation is something extra special, maybe in part because of Dante’s character. Personally, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I hope you do too.
He’s living a lie.
Dante Ramos: Champion. Ladies’ man. Party animal. Women want him, and men either want to be him or put his lights out for sleeping with their girlfriends. It’s all an act. Inside, he’s so full of self-loathing he’s on a fast-track to self-destruction.
She’s living in the shadows.
Meeting Michelle at a support group for assault survivors shows Dante a new world of possibilities. Finally, someone in his life might understand him, and she creates in him a fierce need to protect. Trouble is, Dante lives his life in the spotlight, and the only thing Michelle wants is a place to hide.
I plod down the church steps, taking my time heading into the parking lot. A quick summer storm must have passed through while we were all inside, and the evening is cool and damp with the smell of fresh rain. I love that scent. I love the electricity in the air before a big storm, and the way it makes everything smell fresh and brand-new after.
I’m so busy lifting my nose to the sky to take a big whiff, wishing the rain could make me shiny and clean like the streets, that I don’t at first notice Dante standing by his car. I jump a little. He’s so big that I can’t believe I missed him.
Mental head smack, Chelle.
He looks apologetic when he says, “Didn’t mean to catch you off guard.”
“You didn’t.” My mother always said I should never sell used cars. I don’t agree with her about much, but she’s right that I’m not a good liar.
With my face burning, I expect him to call me out on the fib. He doesn’t. He only gives me a winning smile and pushes away from the car. He’s got two takeout cups in his hand. “Okay. So I couldn’t make it to the meeting tonight, but I didn’t like the idea of you out here waiting alone for the bus. Wanted to make sure you got home okay. Also…” He holds out one of the cups. “I broke down and picked up a milkshake, and I hate to drink alone.”
Wow. That’s either a little weird or really nice. Under the circumstances, I decide to go with option B. I’ve always thought Dante was a player, but I’ve never thought he was a bad guy. After the last couple of weeks, I’m not even sure what to think. “What kind of milkshake?”
“Double chocolate cookies and cream. Unless that’s not your thing, in which case I’m willing to trade you my birthday-cake flavored. And I don’t give up my rainbow sprinkles for just anybody, Michelle.” He leans in and whispers that last part with a gravelly suggestive something in his voice, and even though he stops short of touching me I’m surprised at the flush of heat his nearness and his words bring to my body.
“That’s…” Ooh. Maybe he is a player. I don’t know why else he’d be acting flirty with the likes of me. I know my loose clothes and long, un-styled hair don’t do much to attract guys. I dress the way I do for a reason.
I recover and grab hold of the first cup he held out to me. “Thanks, but I wouldn’t dare ask you to make that kind of sacrifice. Anyway, chocolate is one of my favorite food groups.”
“For you, I would. But I’m glad I made the right choice.”
His eyes gleam when he smiles and leans into my space. My snap-fleeting thought is that he’s definitely being flirty. The idea nearly makes me snarf my first drink of shake. No way. “I… Hey, this is really good,” I say, pointing to the cup. Maybe I’m being a dork. Probably.
I’m not sure what surprises me more. The idea that he could possibly be making a move on me, here of all places, or the idea that I kind of would like him to be.
Elisabeth Staab loves passionate stories and happy endings. Her books have been called “emotionally delicious,” “action-packed,” and “gloriously snarky.” When not writing romance about vampires and werewolves and emotionally wounded boxers (oh, my!), she enjoys date night with her husband, reading with her kids, and marathoning her favorite books or TV series. Keep up with all the latest shenanigans by following her newsletter, stopping by ElisabethStaab.com, or finding her on Facebook and Twitter.
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I’m from all over. My dad was military and then my parents split when I was young, so I’ve moved a lot. When I was a kid I hated it, but I’ve definitely been a lot of interesting places. Some of those places definitely influence my writing, like my Chronicles of YAVN series which is set in the Northern Virginia / Washington DC area. I currently live there and it’s the longest I’ve been anywhere.
Tell us your latest news??
Right now I’m working on a male/male romance, the third book in my Evergreen Grove new adult series! In book one my heroine, Cassie, makes friends with a really out and really proud former escort, and I got a lot of requests for him to have a book. So my goal is to have that out in January.
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I started writing after my youngest son was born (he’s in first grade now-time flies!). I had honestly stopped reading romance for a long time, but then I stumbled upon Lara Adrian and J.R. Ward, who made me fall in love with romance again. So not too surprising that my first series had vampires in it—I wanted to pay tribute to the creatures that had made me love happy endings again.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
My early reading was Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys. If I had to choose one book though it would be Sati by Christopher Pike, which I’ve read about a million times and it always makes me think. I grew up reading mostly mystery and horror, so I guess my love of writing paranormal and suspense novels really fits. These days I read all over the place, and I think the biggest influences have been genre-wise. I swore I’d never want to revisit my younger years, and yet I fell so in love with the NA genre that I’m now three books into a contemporary NA series.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
Some of them seem to just appear. Others come from life, curiosity, and my weird imagination. For example, I see two people engaged in an intense discussion across the room. Why? Who are they to each other? If they’re lovers are they having a fight? Making up? Breaking up? Are they brother and sister and they’re having a fight because one of them doesn’t like the other one’s girlfriend/boyfriend? What might possibly happen next? I’ve come up with some fun story ideas using this exercise, but I’ve also probably weirded-people out, because it means I wind up staring at people for a long time while I mull their imaginary scenarios over, lol.
What motivates you to write?
The fact that I love stories, and if I don’t write them down I seriously worry that they’ll all clog up my brain until I can’t remember my own children’s names.
What is the hardest part of writing?
I’m not sure… right now I’m finishing edits for By the Rules, book three in my Evergreen Grove series, and in spite of having known the two heroes and their plot so well in my head, I had one hell of a time getting it out on the page. So right now I’d say it’s all hard because having just struggled through 80,000 words of stubborn, enemies to lovers romance, that’s how it feels. Not all books are that challenging, but some sure are.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learn from every book I write. Most of all that I never feel like I know what I’m doing, but somehow I always finish anyway. More amazingly, people read them and sometimes even like them, which is a blessing.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’ll refer you back to the weird thing about my imagination. I once got a story idea from documentary about a body farm (one of those places where they let bodies decompose so they can study them), but the actual farm of bodies isn’t in the series at all. Writer brains are wacky places.
What does your family think of your writing?
Ha! Well my husband is extremely supportive, thank God. I think that’s important and I’m so grateful. My kids think it’s cool but they’re mad I won’t let them read my books. My grandmother thinks I use the f-word too much. I think pretty much everyone else is waiting for me to get a “real job.”
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Take your time, do your homework, and be patient. That whole it’s a marathon not a sprint adage is good. I wish I hadn’t made so many snap decisions early on in my career. Things worked out, but some things can’t be undone. I also heard Sylvia Day speak at the Liberty States conference last year, and her advice was wonderful: Dream big, read a lot, and plan smart. I definitely second all that stuff.
What book are you reading now?
I’m between books while I finish my own, but I just finished Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, which… ohmygod. I can’t say enough how much I loved that book. I felt so many feelings that my feelings are still having feelings. I’m thinking of making a quote from Baz’s POV my next tattoo. My next read is going to be The Queen by Tiffany Reisz. I loved that series so I’m having bittersweet feelings about reading the final book.
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