Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux are talking today about their new book Sticks & Stones and the series which started with Cut & Run, released in September 2008
Hi Madeleine and Abigail. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed once again on the site, this time for the launch of your newest book Sticks & Stones. This is the second book in this series starring Ty Grady and Zane Garrett, and it will be released by Dreamspinner Press on January 25. I’ve read the book and I think it’s perhaps your best work to date. What was the idea behind the series and what would you like to tell the fans about the story?
AR First of all, thank you! Sticks & Stones was a hard book to write compared to Cut & Run, so it’s such a relief to see that you enjoyed it! The real idea behind the series was just the desire to follow these two characters through a little more of their lives. Cut & Run gave us the genesis of their relationship, but it didn’t give us enough! There’s still so much to their pasts and their future to learn about, on top of the fact that their being FBI agents gives us as writers a chance to explore all kinds of plots and types of stories with them. Sticks & Stones is a different type of story than Cut & Run was. It centers more around Ty and Zane than around any case they’re working, which is something I think readers really wanted at this point.
MU I’ve said to readers that Ty & Zane are just too alive to let them sit aside after just one book. If characters could ever stand up and smack their authors around, it would be those two. Being as three-dimensional as they were after just one book, we knew they could be so much more. If I could boil it down to one idea, which is truly impossible, I’d say You know the saying about it’s not the destination, it’s the journey? That’s Ty & Zane.
Most writers leave their books alone and don’t disturb the characters except maybe to do a Christmas special <g> unless the original plan in your fertile brain was to develop a series after writing Cut & Run. Was it?
AR I admit, when we were writing Cut & Run I kept thinking ‘these guys would make a great series.’ When we were done with Cut & Run, the original version actually did have the happily ever after ending most readers wanted, with the two heroes riding off into the sunset. Madeleine and I discussed how we didn’t want to be done with them, and how it didn’t feel quite right for these two men to fall head over heels so suddenly. So we rewrote the ending and left it open for more, and almost immediately started coming up with more.
MU As soon as we had to start cutting scenes out of Cut & Run, I knew we wouldn’t be able to just quit Ty & Zane cold turkey. At that time I had no idea their story would grow as it has. We’re into the third book and both Abigail and I will admit there’s no end in sight.
This is a very ambitious series which explores the protagonists in considerable depth, particularly their feelings for each other, and this new book provides answers to some of the questions the fans have been asking. How did you decide on the direction of Sticks & Stones and what did you want to achieve?
AR This book was the hardest, most obstinate book to write! We knew what we wanted out of the next part in their lives, we just didn’t know how to get there or what to do with them when we got them there. Finally, we realized our initial view was too broad. We were trying to address too much. So we scaled it down and decided to just take it one adventure and one revelation at a time. It seems to have worked really well for us.
MU For a long time I didn’t know if Sticks & Stones would happen, simply because we had so much material that we didn’t know what to do with it all. It was really difficult deciding what to focus on for Book Two, and for me it came down to telling Ty & Zane’s story, realistically, in order of events, how it happened. There was no way it was going to work to skip to a happily ever after, especially after one or two books. That’s just not real, for one thing, and for another, it’s just not Ty & Zane.
In Sticks & Stones we are introduced to Ty’s family who are a large part of the book and the adventure in the mountains of West Virginia, a very beautiful but dangerous setting. Was there a special reason why you wanted the readers to meet them?
AR Ty’s family, especially his relationship with his father, explains a lot about him, his actions, and his decisions in the past. Readers will see Ty Grady in an entirely new light after this book, and so will Zane.
MU Not only does Ty’s family give us insight into his past and his motivations, it also starts to set the stage for how his relationship with Zane might develop. Seriously–Ty taking Zane home to meet his parents? How’s that for a big, serious step, even if neither of them would admit it? It also gave us a setting where Ty & Zane wouldn’t be able to avoid each other or what’s happening between them, which is key at this point in their relationship.
In this book, and I don’t want to give away too much, Ty and Zane are badly hurt and one of them almost dies. Are you going to continue in this vein of hurt / comfort which you started in Cut & Run? How much do you think the fans of the series will be able to bear in terms of critical injuries to the protagonists in each book, if that is your plan? There were times when I had to put the book down because I was so upset at the amount of abuse they both suffered.
AR It is certainly not our plan to critically injure one or both of them in every book. We don’t go into a novel asking how we can hurt them this time. If an injury or illness fits the situation and is the likely outcome, we’re not afraid to do it; we try to balance keeping them in one piece with trying to decide how realistic it would be that they wouldn’t be injured by doing whatever it is they’re doing.
I know there’s been discussion lately about the trend in hurting characters in order to make them open up emotionally, and I’ll go on record as saying it’s a useful device if used sparingly and done well. Ty and Zane, though, are more likely to get hurt as a result of an emotional outburst than they are to have an emotional epiphany from being hurt.
MU We don’t set out to abuse them. It’s the simple truth that they are both dangerous men, they both have dangerous jobs, and their pasts have shaped them and their reactions to situations. The hurt/comfort theme is one of the stronger stones their relationship is built on at this point. But there are real people out there like that too.
In Sticks & Stones we also get a few glimmers into the psyche of Assistant Director Burns and his relationship with one of the protagonists. Can you tell us if Burns is going to play a much larger role in future books? What do you think are his thoughts about the personal relationship between the protagonists? <g>
AR I can say with certainty that he will continue to play a large role, sometimes from behind the scenes, other times he might be right there in the mix. He’s a large part of their lives, especially one of them, whether he’s there physically or not. I can also say with certainty that he doesn’t know about Ty’s and Zane’s romantic relationship. In regards to their relationship as men and as partners and co-workers, though, he thinks they’re both insane.
MU Burns knows who his best agents are, and he knows what they can do (see my answer to the question above). To him, a “personal” relationship is the trust and rapport Ty & Zane can build to function as efficiently and safely as possible. Why else would he have reassigned them together at the end of Cut & Run?
Aside from the villains, there is one character in this book who I really didn’t care for (I’m sure you know who I mean). Is he going to appear in a future book so that he can apologise for his actions in Sticks & Stones which almost got everyone killed?
AR He will appear in more books, and I’d wager most readers will continue to dislike him. He’s not a bad guy, but he has more faults than not. As far as apologizing? I’m going to take the 5th on that one….
MU Life for Ty & Zane isn’t and probably never will be hearts and flowers, and that includes the people around them.
I love Deuce, Ty’s brother, who I think is a wonderful character. Is there a chance he will be back in a future story or maybe in his own story if he’s gay?
AR Deuce will be back. He’s actually becoming a larger character than we intended because we both loved him! He’s Ty’s brother and becomes a very good friend to Zane, so he will serve as sort of an emotional guide to them both. Poor guy gets a call whenever something goes wrong! He may very well get his own story of sorts, in that we’re working on a plot revolving around him. He’s not gay, though, so no M/M romance for him!
MU I love Deuce too. Someone has to have some perspective when it comes to this crazy partnership Ty & Zane have, and he got nominated. No M/M romance for Deuce, but I believe the readers will love him just as much as we do anyway.
There were lots of funny moments in this book especially with Ty’s crazy grandfather. Did you dream up his character or was he based on someone you know? Why the shovel? <g>
AR Ty’s grandfather, Chester, is based in part on my great-grandmother. Her name was Edith. She wasn’t crazy, not really, but she was unique and didn’t care what anyone else though of her. She liked to sit on her front porch with a shovel. We tried giving her new shovels every year, but she kept the same one. I never knew why it was special, but when the handle finally wore down and broke off, she never sat on the front porch again.
She had a closet full of the same blue dress, at least ten of them, all made the same way. She wore one every day except for Christmas. She had one brown one and we never knew why. She could tell you when a storm was coming hours before it appeared. She spoke her mind no matter who she was talking to or what she was talking about. And sometimes what she was talking about was not what everyone else was talking about! She was a funny lady, and I knew I couldn’t make up a character any more unique if I tried for a year.
MU I adore Chester. Zane makes a particular comment about him at one point that is so very true and really encapsulates Ty’s entire family. “Crazy” can be an endearment.
The next book in the series, Fish & Chips, is set on a cruise ship which is as different from West Virginia as you can get. The story seems really funny but I’ve learned that with you two things are never what they seem. What, if anything, would you would like to tell the fans about Fish & Chips?
AR Fish & Chips puts them in a situation where, for the first time, they’re not perceived as equals. Ty is way out of his comfort zone, and Zane is perhaps too close to his. The story explores a little bit of Zane’s dark side and a little bit of Ty’s… other sides. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
MU It’s the next step along the road of Ty & Zane figuring out what they can be to one another. Once you’ve read Cut & Run and Sticks & Stones, you have to agree the amount of baggage both are dragging along is significant. We’ll see some of that and how Ty & Zane intend to handle it as they learn more about each other–both the good and the bad.
Thank you again Abigail and Madeleine.
Sticks & Stones will be released by Dreamspinner on January 25th.