New & Improved Burnouts Series

They’re the same unique, sweet contemporary new adult love stories but with a whole new look.

I hoping to bring them to a whole new group of readers so I took a new direction in the packaging. I wanted covers that better expressed that these are definitely romance books, full of all the great feels you want when you read a romance. But I also wanted the highlight the things that make them unique in the romance category. The heroes in both books are different. No “bad boys” here. These are really nice guys who genuinely like women. These are the guys you cheer for because you like them. They are multi dimensional, real people with hopes and fears and faults and dreams.

And my heroines are truly strong, sexy, fun girls–never apologizing for their smarts, love life or the choices they make.

The stories are a little more gritty, but all my reviews thus far have mentioned how much they are like what high school was really like–the heart aches, silliness, mistakes and awkwardness of falling in love for the first time.

Here’s a sample from “Suburban Love Song”

Carrie sat down with a fork and dug into the rest of the cake. She looked up into Ben’s disapproving eyes. “Wha?” she said through her mouthful, “it’s not like anyone else is going to eat it.” She shoved another forkful in to spite him, then chewed with a smile on her face, her cheeks full.

“So where is MG?” Ben was referring to her best friend who was grounded, at least for today.

Carrie thought about answering him and letting the cake fall out of her mouth, but she was enjoying his company and didn’t want to razz him too much. She held up a finger till she swallowed then said, “grounded.”

“She got caught going out with a 22-year old guy.” Ben didn’t need that information, but it was always fun to shock him a little. Carrie’s own sometimes boyfriend, Chuck, was 21; another fact that Ben would, no doubt, not approve of.  But Ben didn’t seem fazed, or really interested.  Why did she always feel the need to press his buttons? Because you are a mean girl, her mother’s voice in her head chimed in.

Carrie put down her fork as she felt the storm clouds of guilt rain on her little birthday parade. Focus on the other person, don’t always talk about you, said the mom-tape running in her head. “So, are you still going out with Joelle?” Carrie knew he was. Ben and Joelle always walked around school holding hands. Joelle proudly displaying her purity ring between their clenched fingers. People in Carrie’s group, the druggies, would gag and make retching noises when they walked by.

His answer was a strangely weak, “yeah.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Ben filled his mouth with cake so he wouldn’t have to talk then focused on giving Christopher another bite. Carrie kept watching him, looking for more details than his lukewarm answer. Finally after swallowing Ben said, “You don’t like her much, do you?”

Carrie wondered if her feelings about Joelle showed on her face. She hoped they didn’t because she was going to lie to be nice to Ben, “She’s alright,” she said with a shrug. Ben wasn’t buying it. “OK, no, I don’t like her much, but I think the feeling is mutual.”

That seemed to get his attention, “What are you talking about?” You could hear his shock that Joelle Welker, purity ring-wearing President of the Right to Life club and outspoken Christian would have anything bad to say about anyone. Carrie knew better.

“She talks about us, about me, and MG.”Carrie paused to read his reaction, so far neutral. “More than once I overheard her and her friends calling us whores.  She calls my friends drug-addicts.”

Ben raised his eyebrows, “Aren’t they?”

Now it was Carrie’s turn to get defensive. “Some of them do drugs, but not all. Most just dress different, ‘cause they’re creative. So people judge them, people like Joelle.”

Ben carried Christopher into the living room and dropped him on the couch. Two-fer giggled. Ben picked up the remote and turned the TV to cartoons, distracting him from their conversation. “Is that why you hang around with them?” he asked as he walked back into the kitchen, “because you’re creative?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so, and they’re nice. They don’t judge.” She raised her eyebrows, challenging him.

“You’re kidding, right?” Carrie knew he was referring to them gagging when Ben and Joelle walked by.

“They only give it back to those who dish it out.”

Silence. Damn it. They were getting along ‘til she had to bring up this mine-field of a topic.

“Do you want some more cake?” Christopher popped up and looked over the back of the couch, “cate?” They both laughed.

“Not you Two-fer. I asked Ben if he wanted more because some little monster ate all his cake.” Christopher laughed and said, “meee.” Then he turned and plopped back down to watch TV. The uncomfortable tension between Ben and Carrie was still there.

Ben picked up his plate and fork, took them to the sink and rinsed them off.  Carrie was surprised he didn’t load them in the dishwasher. “Thanks for the cake.  It was really good.” He walked over and stood directly in front of her, crowding her space. “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,” he almost whispered.

Carrie backed up into the counter. She didn’t want him to be nice, it was too real, too honest, too much. Joking and teasing she could take, distance was good too. “Why would you remember my birthday?” she smirked. She was too raw for this today.

“Because I went to every one of your parties since we were 6,” he said as if he was pointing out the obvious. Ben was looking down at her, studying her.

“What?” she said, exasperated and irritated by his scrutiny.  There was pity in his eyes, and it was rattling her cage.

“Was this your only party? For your sweet 16?”

Oh, a swift kick to the heart. She couldn’t let him see how much it all hurt.  “Yeah, well, I’m not so sweet.” She tried to diffuse the tension.

Ben was standing over her, trying to look into her eyes, like he had something important to tell her, something he wanted to make sure she heard. “You deserve better than this.”

Shit he was direct. That last hit was her undoing. A tear she fought all afternoon while she made her cake ran down her cheek. She looked away from him and tried to turn away in the small space between two stools, the counter, and Ben.

But he didn’t move. He stayed in her space, blocking her in, witnessing her humiliation. Carrie worked to shut down her pain and turn it into anger. She was about to shove Ben out of the way or say something rude when he crushed her thin defense. He reached out and hugged her.

“I’m sorry.” He spoke quietly into her hair. “I just say stuff. I think just because it’s true, I should say it.”

Carrie’s body tensed. Her brain spun trying to make sense, trying to process, trying to find a reference for his comfort. She felt a small warm spot in the pit of her stomach, and it felt amazingly good and god-awful strange at the same time. She tentatively bent her arms and touched his waist.

“I’m sorry I made you cry.” He said over the top of her head.

Carrie tried to respond but couldn’t talk past the ball of emotion caught in her throat. She was about to tease him about wanting to hug her because that’s all he and Joelle did, but she fought the urge to make him angry. It felt too good. He was tall, and warm; there was so much Ben surrounding her. And his jacket smelled like fresh air and laundry detergent and fabric softener. She felt the lump in her throat melt and the breath it had been blocking all day eased out of her.

***

I hope you liked it. If you did you can pick up an kindle copy of Suburban Love Song for just 99c for the next 5 days.

 

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Bad Boy Burnout

One of the questions I get asked most often about Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story is who Ben is based on. Did I know a Ben in high school? (Answer: I wish). Ben is actually a combination of several men I know but the main idea for his character came from a case of bad-boy burnout.

A total Boy Scout who will steal your heart.



Bad boys have been standard fare in romance for a long time. The romance novels I read in high school were full of scoundrels and rogues who led sweet-innocents astray. I gave up on the genre around the time I started college. Fun reading was replaced with text books (I swear I did read some of them) and I got tired of the predictability of the novels. Before the days of self-publishing there were fewer choices and fewer retail outlets where you could find different options. If it wasn’t on the paperback shelf at Target, I probably didn’t read it in the 1980’s. 

But now we have options, tons of options. Not only do we have Amazon, but with the advent of the e-reader, it’s possible for local libraries to carry thousands more titles than their brick and motor buildings can hold. When I jumped back into romance reading a few years ago I started searching for the best novels that were published during my missing years. I found Outlander and Twilight then 50 Shades of Grey and Beautiful Disaster. I was devouring these and loving them. Internet searches also brought me the “If you loved (name of book) then try…” lists. So if I loved 50 Shades of Grey then I will love This Man or Bared to You. Ummm, no. That’s where I hit a wall. For me the follow-up novels were way too close to the original.  I felt like I was reading the same story but with different character names.  I tried other suggestions and kept running into more and more bad boys, who were starting to feel more like colossal a-holes.

But frustration is a good thing for a writer. The more I hated the “heros” I was finding the more I wanted to create my own.  I was dying to read about a smart guy who was going somewhere in life. I wanted a story where there wasn’t a “good girl” out to save some misogynistic loser–so I wrote it. 

Ben was created to turn the current standard for romance writing around. He is the antithesis of the previaling bad boy. He is smart and geeky and driven. And like most real people his assets are also his deficits. He is also a controlling, rigid perfectionist. The final piece I added to make him real was that he was a virgin, but sexual. Logic tells me that just because a teenage boy isn’t having sex doesn’t mean it isn’t on his mind, a lot. Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks is a broody, angsty, bad-boy free zone. 

So, how about you? What type of romance books are you drawn to? Have you reached bad-boy burnout or are you ready for more? Who is the best hero you’ve read lately? Comment below and let me know.

Win a Signed Copy of Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks by Karen  Gordon

Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks

by Karen Gordon

Giveaway ends January 12, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

High As A Kite I Just Might Stop To Check You Out

How I see Steve **

Long title today, but I couldn’t resist the Violent Femmes reference.  It goes with the territory I’ve been in lately.  I’m working on Popstars, Friends & Lovers the sequeal to Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story. So I’m spending a lot of time with my favorite burnout, Steve Shrader. He is often high as a kite and today’s the day we will stop to check him out. 

In a way Steve is the Midwest version of Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He’s the funny, charming guy who cruises through high school on a perpetual high. Other students think he’s funny and teachers like him more than they would ever admit.  That is definitely part of this character and the side that he shows the world. But as book one progresses and into book two we learn that he is so much more complicated that what he lets you see.

A big part of his character is that he loves girls. Sure all guys say they do, but it borders on obsession with Steve. (See my 10/3/13 post – A Primer on Men Who Love Women) This overwhelming need to connect to females comes from the lack of any female in his early life. He’s never known his mother and only briefly connected to one of his dad’s girlfriends. He spends time with and studies girls. He flirts with any female he comes across because he loves to make them smile. And all that studying and flirting make him an amazing lover, even at sixteen. He’s not a player, looking to see how many girls he can score with. He’s an aficionado of all things female who can’t resist getting to study the objects of his desire.  

And the one he connects with most is MG. His laid back side is drawn to her hell-bent need to have fun. He’s her perfect partner in crime, willing to go along and support all her schemes. He’s more than happy to just bask in her glow, never needing the spotlight she craves. But MG wants more from life than he can (or is willing to) offer. 

Book two is Steve and MG’s story, but also a story about dreams. The problem with Steve is that he just doesn’t have any. He was raised without expectations or permission to hope for anything more than a third shift life moving boxes at a warehouse. His laid back nature works against him and he just lets life happen to him. Until something pushes him to take the reins of his own life and go after what he truly dreams of. 

The surprising side to Steve Shrader is his passion. I can’t wait for everyone to get to see this side of him this November when I tell his story.  

Suburban Soul

There are times when I don’t want to admit that I grew up in, and currently live in, suburbia.  Almost anyplace sounds more interesting. It’s the land of houses and lawns and neighborhoods and strip malls that all look the same and exist in the same pattern around almost every major U.S. city.  And by default, we suburban dwellers are often seen as all the same.  We are the families with 2.5 kids, swing sets in the back yard, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. It’s seen as the middle of the road where middle-income families drive mid-sized cars to their mid-level management jobs wearing their mid-priced mall wear. 

We are mocked in movies and scorned by hipsters who insist that creativity and passion can only exist in places with independent coffee shops, non-standard house paint colors and high crime.  The consensus is that exciting stories and interesting people can’t be found in the aisles of Target and Lowes or on soccer field sidelines.  But I live here, I know better.

My Suburbia

I’ll admit there is a Stepford-like element to living here.  Conformity is encouraged and rewarded both in housing and personal demeanor.  Crazy is generally not welcomed and should be concealed.  But that’s where the fun starts.  Crazy set out in the front yard or brazenly displayed on the porch is so obvious.  If you wave your nut-ball flag all the time there’s no rumor, intrigue or speculation when the cops show up. 

There is passion and angst in suburbia along with pain and hope.  It’s just hidden behind tan and beige exteriors and banal discussions about potty training and tree rot.  There’s an art to reading between the lines and looking for clues, finding raw humanity in a place designed to hide it.  

I set both books in my Burnouts series in suburbia, because that’s what I know, and because it’s so much more challenging to both present the veiled outside and the spirit beneath in a character.  I love the scene in chapter 5 where Ben’s parents separate.  It’s real pain played out on the driveway (where everyone can see, *gasp*) by players schooled in the art of keeping it cool.  

I’m not sure if I’ll use suburbia again as a setting for a novel.  It’s a hard sell.  Like any stereotype, it creates a set of expectations in readers.  Fictional suburbia is supposed to be cheer leading practice, Friday night football and the occasional heated discussion over fence height regulations.  But I prefer the reality I saw growing up: the kids who didn’t fit in, the families who struggled to fit the mold, the imperfect and awkward love stories in a seemingly perfect world.  

Sex Positive Romance Writing is Not an Oxymoron Here

This book is so much more than it’s cover.

On the surface “Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks: a love story” is a simple, funny,easy read.  I designed it that way.  It’s meant to be something fun you can start and finish on one vacation because sometimes you need a book that doesn’t drag on forever and require major brain cell usage. 

But, if you look closer, and scratch beneath the very cool pink surface, there’s a lot more there.  There is trend bucking galore.  I love NA books, but I started to feel like the world of new adult romance had become over populated with motor-cycle riding, tattooed, angsty man-whore heroes and the equally ubiquitous cavity-inducingly sweet, virginal, damsal-in-distress heroines. In response to these archetypes I created Ben – a geeky, polite, virgin hero, and Carrie – his sarcastic, funny, sex-loving heroine.  

Wait, hold the phone … she loves sex?!?!  

Yep, and her friends do too.  I’ll pause here to give the overly offended time to exit (mumbling “I always knew there was something wrong with her.”) and everyone else time to switch gears to this burgeoning new idea – women can like sex and it doesn’t make them a whore or a slut.  It makes them human.  

I’m excited to be part of this new idea in romance writing.  I’m ready for more unapologetic, fully-human female characters.  And equally as important, I can’t wait for more male characters who value a woman for more than being previously unclaimed territory and smokin hot.  

I’m sure some of you are wondering how this works … she’s not a slut, but she loves sex?  Well, first you have to let go of the idea that women have absolutely no control over their lust once they lose their virginity. I’m not sure who started the idea that once we have one guy we just can’t seem to stop ourselves from wanting any and all guys – that we become indiscriminate, grabbing at any low-hanging fruit (visual pun).  My guess would be that the idea came from the guys who would fall in the low-hanging fruit category – a marketing campaign of sorts from the bottom rungs of the male gender.  There is no magic presto-chango that happens to a female upon losing her virginity. She’s the same person she was the day before with a little more life experience tucked under her belt. (Check out this fantastic post on the whole concept of what actually constitutes losing your virginity from Girl on the Net.) 

My novel is not a morality play for or against premarital sex.  It’s a slice of reality.  Some of my girls have sex, some don’t.  Some regret it, some don’t.  Some enjoy it, some pretend too.  What they don’t do is apologize to anyone for the choices they make. 

But there is still more hidden in this deceptively simple story.  There is also some really steamy realistic sex.  If you love erotica that features Cirque-du-Soleil gymnastic style moves, this is not the book for you.  If you want to believe that a well-used gym membership can make some guy is so studly he can defy that fact that 80% of women cannot come by penetration alone, this is not the book for you.  I think these myths hurt women more than help them, so I left them out.  

If you are still with me–welcome to the trend, and while I support this trend, I promise not to be preachy in my books.  For those who buy my novel for an easy read by the pool with too many margaritas, don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed.  The shiny, pink fun is there, and if you are interested, a little social history-making underneath. 

My Musical Muses

One of the new trends in publishing is for a writer to list the music that served as inspiration for a book.  I like this trend.  First, it let me know that I am not the only writer who relies on some musical muses to get the creative process going.  Second, by sharing it my readers can also get a little insight into where my head was when I created a certain scene or chapter.  There are some songs that even influenced the entire book. 


My taste in music is eclectic.  About the only thing I don’t listen to on a regular basis is country music, but if you’ve read my book you know the only song referenced (twice) is “Pretty Little Adriana” by Vince Gill.  I wasn’t kidding when I said that I only gave him a chance because he was so easy on the eyes (Carrie quote). 

For your listening pleasure (if you are so inclined) this weekend, I present my playlist for “Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks: a love story” with a few notes about why or how these songs influenced me:

Chapter 10 – Party at Chuck’s house
“Lunatic Fringe” – Red Rider
 I’ve always associated this song with those who live their lives on the fringes of society and the crazy assortment of people at Chuck’s house definitely fall into or close to the lunatic category.

“Can’t Find My Way Home” – Blind Faith
An absolute classic about feeling completely lost and having given up hope of something better, which is how I see Carrie at the end of the chapter.

Chapters 12 & 13 – Ben kidnapped and party at MG’s
“Tongue Tied” – Group Love
It’s a party song with the lyric: “take me to your best friend’s house,” need I say more?

Chapter 21 – First date
“Pretty Little Adriana” – Vince Gill
Even if you are not a country fan, Vince Gill is easy to listen to.  When you listen, enjoy the pic on any of his album covers.  (I met him once, he is just as sigh-worthy in person.)

Chapter 24 – Camping road trip
“Nothing Left to Lose” – Matt Kearney
Just a great road trip song; the freedom of getting away, somewhere, together.

Chapter 26 – It would be a spoiler, so I can’t describe the chapter
“Summertime Sadness” – Lana Del Rey
I cried when I wrote this chapter and every time I heard this song for a long time after that.

End of Chapter 30 – Ben deployed
“Days Go By”  – Dirty Vegas
The music and repetition in this song always brought up the image of the sameness of hot days in the desert.  The words really fit Ben’s frame of mind.

Chapter 34 – Operation Callahan’s Fish Camp
“Love is Won” – Lia Ices
I have no idea what the lyrics to this song mean, but the sweet ache in her voice and the beautiful echo made me think of a couple slow dancing, alone, to a song on a radio that would echo across the lake.  

General music
“Come Undone” – Duran Duran
This just seemed to fit Carrie and Ben who turned to each other when they came undone. 

Enjoy – Have a great weekend!  Read and Review – 50 by 50!