We’ll be revealing the three book covers for the Stark International Trilogy over the next few days so stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter to see all three. We also caught up with Julie to hear more about her brand new series and what she’s been up to recently.
Hi Julie! So, can you tell us a bit more about the brand new hero and heroine in the Stark International Trilogy?
Of course!! Jackson is wonderfully strong and sexy and talented. He’s a “starchitect” – that is, an architect who has made such a name for himself that he’s pretty much a celebrity in his own right. He’s not completely comfortable with that celebrity component, though, and it makes the fact that he has secrets to keep (not to mention a bit of a temper) that much harder to deal with.
I’ll let Sylvia do the describing for me:
I see sensuality and sin. Power and seduction. I see a man with his shirt collar open, his tie hanging loose. A man completely at home in his own skin, who commands a room simply by entering it.
As for Sylvia herself, she’s a woman with a dark secret in her past that she believed she had overcome, only to find herself thrown for a loop when Jackson first arrived in her life. She’s ambitious and smart and a hard worker. Readers of the Stark trilogy have already met her, though they may not realize it – she’s Damien’s very efficient executive assistant.
If you had to cast two celebrities to play them, who would you choose, and why?
Believe it or not, that’s a really hard question for me, because I just don’t associate my characters with celebrities when I’m writing them. I have an image of them in my head, and no celebrity is ever really that character, so I’m never completely satisfied. That being said, when I was looking up pictures on the internet for Sylvia’s hair (I wanted to see the style I imagined) Keira Knightley’s picture came up, and she is so Sylvia.
Jackson is harder, but I saw a picture of Brant Daugherty recently that pretty much nailed Jackson (though his eyes need to be even more blue).
Why do you think you’re drawn to writing strong female characters and anti-heroes?
The women I write are strong in that they have goals and a purpose (or they are searching for one) and even if they are with a controlling guy, they’re going to push back as much as they can and not just let a guy walk all over them. That doesn’t mean that they’re stone-cold or that they don’t cry or get scared or need help. I don’t think it’s a weakness for a female character to need the hero’s help. But if that character’s entire world revolves around the hero, then the character is weak because she lacks definition. To me, that’s just boring, not to mention unrealistic.
As for anti-heroes, I suppose technically the guys that I write are just that. Certainly Damien has his dark side (as does Jackson). And the men of my Most Wanted series are criminals by definition, so they fit the bill. But at the same time, these are men who would do anything for the woman they love. They’re chivalrous … and they like to be in control.
But, yes, there is a danger aspect. And I like writing that for a lot of reasons. At its most basic, those guys are just really fun to write. They’re hot and sexy and yummy and, hey, I get to spend hours and hours with them! But more than that, there’s a gothic quality. Most of the books I write are told from the woman’s point of view, and it’s so much fun crafting the story so that she doesn’t quite know where she stands – and absolutely anything can happen!
Damien and Nikki both had skeletons in their closets that made their relationship difficult at times and that they had to overcome to be together. What do you think is the appeal of this suspenseful and fought-for relationship, over easy love?
Well, it’s a lot of things. The drama is necessary in fiction because if it was easy, it would be a really boring book. But the drama between Nikki and Damien is supported by an undercurrent of both desire and respect. So there’s drama, but the reader is rooting for them. And then the question is: how are the characters going to surmount all the crap that’s being thrown at them in order to get to happily ever after?
Ideally, the reader is on the edge of their seat, wanting more and then feeling what the heroine (in the case of the Stark books, since she’s our narrator) is feeling as obstacle after obstacle gets in her way.
It’s a rollercoaster, and for most people, rollercoasters are a lot of fun.
What is it about strong but damaged male characters that makes us fall for them?
Oh, I could get all psychoanalytical, but I think the bottom line is that the classic story that love heals. Your hero (or your heroine or both) is damaged. Broken. But once they find their other half – once they find the person who completes them – then they’re healed and they can make their way to their happily ever after. Love conquers all … but it doesn’t really. Not in the real world – not always. The books are a fantasy and a wish and catharsis.
So we fall for them because we see the core of strength and tenderness underneath. In a book, that well can truly be tapped. That’s not always the case in real life, and that’s part of the appeal of these damaged heroes, I think. In fiction, love really can heal them.
So why did you decide to return to the Stark world for this trilogy?
I love writing connected stories. (I also love reading them.) Once I slide into a world, be it one of my own or one that I’m reading about, I like to hang out in that world and play in that sandbox.
So while I was able to stay in the world with the Nikki and Damien Stark Ever After novellas, I also wanted to go deeper. To have brand new stories with couples finding each other and overcoming their own issues. And I realized that, hey, Damien’s corporate world is huge. There was no reason why I couldn’t set stories there.
There’s another reason, too, why ‘Say My Name’ is set in the world of Stark International, but that’s part of the fun of reading the book, so right now, my lips are sealed. Some secrets must be kept, you know …
Will Damien and Nikki be making an appearance?
Yes! Nikki and Damien are important secondary characters in this trilogy with Jackson and Sylvia. (And my plan is for them to appear in all of the Stark International novels and novellas that come later.)
Was it strange writing about Damien’s world without focusing on him?
I thought it would be, but it really wasn’t. For one, as I mentioned above, the world is large, so he can’t be everywhere all the time. But more important, it was fun to watch him working through a perspective other than Nikki. It shows another side of him, and it was a blast taking readers there.
Whilst we’re here, let us congratulate you on winning the first ever RITA trophy for erotic romance last year! Have you noticed any changes to the genre, or even to what the audience wants, since erotic fiction became more mainstream?
Thank you! I’m very, very honoured that ‘Claim Me‘ won!
I think the answer really is … more. The audience still wants more, and that’s great. I also think that the desire for more is spilling over into other media, too.
Romance, including erotic romance, has a happy ending. But in the past really sexy movies have tended to have unhappy, ambiguous, or twisted endings (Body Heat, 9 ½ Weeks, Unfaithful). There have been a lot of romantic comedy movies, but very few sexy filmed romances. I think the explosion of the book readership (and the fact that there is less stigma attached to the fact that women want sexy entertainment) suggests a shift in film and television product toward romantic and sexy.
Or maybe that’s just me what I’m hoping!
A few of us around the office have admitted that they always go for the eBook or audio book when buying erotic fiction so that they can disguise which book they’re reading or listening to. Do you think there’s still a stigma about being caught reading erotic romance?
Unfortunately, I think there will be a bit of a stigma for a long time. But it has lessened so very much in just the last couple of years that it would take a lot to move backwards. The stone is rolling downhill now, and it’s only going to gather more speed, and I think that’s a good thing. Not only is there less stigma about reading erotic romance, but also about talking about sex and what women want in general.
You also write under the pen name J. K. Beck. Why did you decide to use a different name and what inspired you to choose that one?
That is such a fun series! The series is The Shadowkeepers, and the first book is ‘When Blood Calls‘. Those books are still available, but now they have been rebranded as J. Kenner books in some markets, so that J. Kenner readers can more easily find them. (And I LOVE that series. They’re intricate paranormal romantic suspense novels set in a paranormal legal system hidden within our own. Think Law & Order but with vampires, werewolves and the like.)
As for why, back when I wrote them, they were a departure from what I’d written before, which were much lighter toned sexy romances and also lighter paranormal women’s fiction (my Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series). We wanted a different name (I was writing as Julie Kenner) to set the books apart from those that had gone before. I picked JK for Julie Kenner (my married name) and Beck because it’s my maiden name.
Similarly, when I started writing ‘Release Me‘ we debated whether to publish them as Julie Kenner. Ultimately, I wanted my existing readers to find me, but I also wanted there to be at least some distinction because the erotic romances had a darker tone and definitely upped the ante in the sensuality department!
With all the hype around the new Fifty Shades of Grey film, do you have any plans to put Damien on the big screen?
Honestly, while I wouldn’t turn down a movie deal, I would prefer to see Nikki and Damien as a television series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that some of the conversations I’ve had come to fruition!
Which books or authors would you recommend to someone who’s just caught the bug for erotic fiction?
Oh, so many! Sylvia Day, of course. Tracy Wolff has some wonderful erotic romances – try her series featuring Ethan Frost. Carly Phillips, Erika Wilde (her Marriage Diaries is a lot of fun, and the reads are short and the couple is married, which I think is a really nice change). Beth Kery. Jennifer Probst. Oh, man. I could go on and on, and I already know that I’m forgetting soooo many awesome authors!