Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Layla M. Wier Talks Gender Worldbuilding in Held for Ransom

I'm so pleased to host Layla M. Wier on my blog today to discuss the importance of female viewpoint characters in M/M fiction. And I'm very interested in hearing more about the "old lady brigade" in her new novel Held for Ransom published by Dreamspinner Press

Hi Aidee! Thanks so much for having me! I'm blog touring for my new novel Held For Ransom, and today I'm going to talk about female characters in M/M romance.

My previous M/M novella, Homespun, had a female character (the grown daughter of one of the main protagonists) as its third viewpoint character. And Held For Ransom also rotates between the main couple, DJ and Ransom, and a third, female viewpoint character -- DJ's cousin Amber Hilsinger. In addition to Amber, there are a number of other female characters who appear in Held For Ransom, ranging from Amber's 8-year-old daughter to the elderly women (DJ refers to them at one point as the "old lady brigade") who organize most of the events in town.

It's not something I'm doing on purpose or to make any kind of political statement. If I were writing about an all-male environment -- a men's prison, a group of fighter pilots, an all-male drag revue, etc etc -- I wouldn't feel the need to shoehorn female characters into it if they didn't fit. I suppose the thing for me, though, is that I'm simply writing to reflect the world the characters live in. The world is full of male people and female people, straight people and queer people, and I was genuinely baffled when I started reading M/M to find that sympathetic female characters are relatively rare. True, they can't be part of the main pairing for obvious reasons, but there are plenty of other roles to fill in a romance novel: parents, children, best friends, etc.

One of the things I really love about Dreamspinner as a publisher is that they've been very supportive of my mixed-gender casts. I've never had a single editorial comment to tone down or remove one of the female voices. (Which I greatly appreciate, because I suspect that if I ever did get a request like that, I'd fight tooth and nail to keep it! Nobody messes with my babies!)

For today's excerpt, I'll give you a look at Amber Hilsinger interacting with our mysterious drifter, Ransom.


“I can drive you to Aldona,” she offered. “You should be able to find a motel there.”

He gave her a quick, shy smile. “Thanks.”

Her wheels spun on the slick road, and once she got moving again, she quickly discovered that twenty miles an hour was the fastest speed she could manage. She was white-knuckled on the steering wheel by the time she crawled into downtown Osmar. It was dark and deserted, lit only by the sparkle of Christmas lights blinking cheerfully through the falling snow. Amber came to a full stop at the bridge and contemplated the road to Aldona, which ran through cornfields where the wind would be screaming sideways, filling the ditches with snow, and making the road indistinguishable from the level white plain of the farmland.

She still hadn’t seen another vehicle. It was three in the morning and every sane person was at home.

“I don’t think I can get you to Aldona,” she said. “Not safely, not in this. Look, I live a few blocks from here. We can head back to my place. I’ll get you a hot drink and some dry clothes. When the storm lets up, I can run you wherever you need to go.”

The look he gave her was an odd blend of gratitude and suspicion. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”

“People help people here,” Amber said. “I’m not saying rural life is some kind of bucolic paradise.” And hell, with her tattoos and piercings, she’d experienced that firsthand. “But helping your neighbor, or even a stranger, is just good common sense. Because you always know the next person in the ditch could be you.”

She drove back to the trailer court, crawling through the drifted streets. Ransom seemed to have fallen asleep in the seat next to her. He came awake, blinking and groaning, when she parked in front of her trailer. A light was still on in Jewel’s window. Amber sent her mother a quick text letting her know she’d gotten in safely. “Come on. Let’s get you warmed up.”

Ransom stopped just inside the door of the trailer, dripping and shedding snow while Amber bustled around turning on lights and cranking the heat up. In contrast to the hopeless mess of Jewel’s trailer, Amber’s was perfectly neat, if a bit cramped. The decor, however, was something Amber knew a lot of people had trouble adjusting to.

The houseplants were the first thing most people noticed, at first by the nose-tingling smell. Many of them were medicinal in nature, and they covered every surface and filled the air with a spicy fragrance. Bundles of herbs hung to dry from the ceiling and on wall racks. Amber knew that Dick Erhardt suspected her of growing pot in there. He’d been in a few times to look for it under the guise of stopping by for a cup of coffee, and each time they’d had a pleasant chat and she’d sent him home with an herbal balm for his arthritis and some sachets of potpourri for his wife. Didn’t stop him from coming back, though. The police always suspected that Hilsingers were up to something. And Amber had to admit it was often true.

The Halloween decor was the next thing people noticed. She saw Ransom staring at the life-size plastic skeleton hanging on the wall. In a small nod to the current season, Amber had put a Santa hat on it, as well as on all the other skulls around the room. She loved Halloween best of all holidays, and she collected Halloween kitsch. Rubber rats peeked out from the houseplants, and fake cobwebs with realistic-looking plastic spiders spread across the windows and ceiling. Not all the webs were fake. Amber believed that spiders were beneficial, as they kept harmful insects out.

Besides the Santa hats, the other concession to the season was an elaborate nativity scene on the table. Amber was proud of it. She and Medwyn had been working on it for several years now, bringing it out every Christmas to add new elements and expand it. They’d started with Barbie dolls for Joseph and Mary (thus rendered as a same-sex couple) and constructed an ever-growing scene around them that now included Star Wars figures, woolly mammoths, and a large Tonka construction crane. Between the nativity scene and the glass fish tank housing Indiana, Medwyn’s albino ball python, the table was no longer usable for its intended purpose.

“The bathroom is down the hall,” Amber told Ransom, who was gazing in baffled dismay at a shelf of Monster High dolls. “Why don’t you take a shower and get warmed up? I’ll put on water for tea and bring you some dry clothes. I can throw your stuff in the washing machine.”

She left him in the bathroom with a pile of towels and one of her old bathrobes.


Held For Ransom
by Layla M. Wier

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novel/200 pages
Release Date: Nov. 14, 2014

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Two weeks before Christmas, the small town of Osmar is gearing up for its annual winter carnival, but the death of the event’s long-time organizer might mean the end of the festivities. Everyone is turning to her son DJ to save the carnival, but DJ can barely save himself. He's spinning his wheels in Osmar—working part time at the gas station, living in his parents' house, and trying to figure out what to do with his life. DJ is caught in a large, loving web of well-meaning family and friends, but they can't fix his life for him. 

Into this mess comes Ransom, a handsome mystery man on a motorcycle. Ransom is traveling around the country, making up for his past sins by doing “good deeds.” He and DJ have a one-night stand that neither can forget, but that's just the start, because Ransom has a plan to save the carnival, and DJ has a plan to save Ransom… and possibly himself.

About Layla:
Layla M. Wier is a writer and artist who grew up in rural Alaska and now lives on the highway north of Fairbanks, where winters dip to 50 below zero and summers yield 24 hours of daylight. She and her husband, between the two of them, possess a useful array of survival skills for the zombie apocalypse, including gardening, blacksmithing, collecting wild plant foods, and spinning wool into yarn (which led to her first Dreamspinner Press novella, "Homespun"). When not writing, she likes reading, hiking, and spending way too much time on the Internet.

Where to find Layla:

Stops on the Held for Ransom blog tour
(Nov 12-Dec 1):

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