Please welcome Kelly Jensen to the blog today chatting about her new book Block and Strike!
Learning to Make Noise
One of the key themes in my new novel, Block and Strike, is learning to accept yourself. To do that, you need to learn to stand up for yourself.
I’ve always wanted to learn karate. Yes, I had dreams of being a black belted ninja. Who doesn’t? I didn’t actually begin studying the martial arts until I was forty, though, so if I ever do get my black belt, I’m probably going to be too old and creaky to ninja anything, unless a black belt comes with some Jedi mind tricks. The fact that gaining a black belt has become an actual possibility for me, however, constantly blows my mind.
I study the Kiryoku system of self-defense. Our style is a blend of Shotokan Karate, Tang Soo Do, and Aikido. Two of my most enduring struggles during my eight years of practice have been my fear of aggression and an inability to make noise. Let’s talk about the noise thing first, because it’s weird, but so important. When you throw a punch or a kick, you must breathe out. Doing so audibly accomplishes a few of things. Breathing out means you’ll soon need to breathe in. This is good. Breathing is good, especially when you’re being active. Sometimes the best defense is running away. You need air for that too. Passing out from lack of oxygen isn’t good.
Breathing out also provides a subtle mental focus. It’s like adding power to your move, whether it’s a block or a strike. Making noise while you breathe out is your war cry. Not only are you rallying your troops (even if it’s just you), you’re warning the enemy. You’re serious, focused and ready to do harm in defense of self. To do that, you need to be loud. You need to be aggressive.
It took me two years to make noise and I started with a subtle hiss. Seriously, I sounded like a leaking tire, which isn’t very threatening. My issue was one of confidence. If I made noise, people would hear me. Yeah, that’s kind of the point, but when you’ve spent your life actively trying not to be heard, it’s really, really hard to step up.
I overcame my fear by practicing. One evening, I was the only student in the class. My sensei stood in front of me with a pad and had me punch and kick that thing for forty minutes, and every time I hit the pad, I had to make a sound. I wasn’t very convincing at first. I breathed loudly. Then I experimented with sounds I was comfortable with. Sensei didn’t laugh at my slow attempts. He did note when my kicks weren’t hitting the target or knocking the pad back very far, though. Know which ones those were? The ones where I didn’t breathe. Didn’t yell. Lost focus. So I practiced. I stuck with the loud breathing for a while and that helped me form the habit of making some sort of sound. I got louder. Then louder still.
Now, yelling as I strike something comes as naturally as breathing. I don’t think about it. I don’t worry that I look stupid or that no one will take me seriously. I believe in myself. I know that the noise I make is appropriate to what I’m doing—and because I can do that, because I can speak up while defending myself physically, I also find it a lot easier to do so verbally. I’ll never be an aggressive person, but as a result of my self-defense training, I am much more assertive. I’ve found I like making noise and that I like being heard. These two things gave me the confidence to not only submit my first manuscript, but to learn how to negotiate with an editor so that in my stories, my voice is clear. This confidence helps me promote my books, writing posts like these without thinking, “does anyone really care?”
I currently hold a brown belt in our system and am working toward the first of three black stripes I must gain before trying for a black belt. That’s approximately four more years of study. More if I’m injured again. I’ve broken my nose, several toes, sprained my wrist and ankle, suffered a black eye, various horrible bruises and a whiplash injury that resulted in a pinched nerve in my neck—and two years away from the dojo. But I’m back and still working toward that black belt!
Why? For the same reason I’ll keep writing and publishing my stories: because now that I’ve learned how to make noise, I never want to quit. <3
Thanks for following my tour! At the end of every post, I’ll be asking a question. Leave a comment with your answer (and your email address). Every comment throughout the tour counts as an entry in my giveaway. Two winners will each receive $25 (US or equivalent) to spend at the Dreamspinner Press store.
Is there something you always wanted to learn?
Title: Block and Strike
Author: Kelly Jensen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: 6th Jan, 2017
Genre(s): Contemporary, Healing, Friends to lovers
Page Count : 266
Reviewed by: PIU, Natosha and Ele
Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.
Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.
Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.
More than angsty, overtly emotional stories, I prefer healing/comfort stories and this book delivered on that front perfectly. Both the MCs were broken and suffering in their own way either physically or psychologically. Their pairing helps them in fixing their lives for the better. Both had demons which had ruled their lives in various degrees and their tentative friendship then romance helps them to overcome those and heal in the best possible way.
Jake Kendricks’ biggest enemy is his anger. It had landed him in trouble more times than he could count and his latest outburst lands him in jail for a year. Jake struggles to get his life back together while trying to steer clear of any kinds of trouble that can again cost him his freedom. One night when he finds a man dumped on his doorstep, Jake is reluctant to get involved. But when he sees that the man has been brutally beaten and left for dead, Jake does everything to help him.
Max Wilson has been a punching bag all his life. He has learned early on that fighting back will make his assailants beat him more so he has never resisted and stood up for himself. After one such meaningless beating which leaves him with a major concussion, a black eye and broken ribs, Max finds himself being cared for by his handsome neighbour with whom he has never spoken to. Jake cares for him and initiates a friendship which Max needed very badly. Max has always relied on himself to survive so he is not comfortable with Jake’s attempts to help and friendship. But after a few days of knowing each other, Max gradually starts to trust Jake and also develops a crush on him. But Jake is straight and Max is not sure if his friendship with Jake will survive if he ever reveals his feelings. But what Max doesn’t know is that Jake wants him too.
Jake and Max both had a lot of healing to do and very large demons to fight. Max have been bullied and beaten a lot that has scared him from coming out even when he is living independent of his bigoted father. He has never learned to stand up for himself and it has left him broken and battered emotionally and physically many times. Jake, on the other hand knows how to defend himself and those he loves. His stint in jail has ripped his lovely daughter from his life and he lives with that pain everyday. He is emotionally scarred as he struggles to accept his new life with the help of his loving family.
Both the characters were very raw and real. I sympathized with Jake’s reasons behind his actions which changes his life. I hated Kate for betraying him like that but the result was also necessary to help Jake realize that his fists are not always the answer and that he has an anger issue he needs to work on. He is a solid guy with a protective streak which made me love him completely. He looks out for Max from the start even when Max is reluctant of his friendship. He helps Max gain his self-confidence without being too overbearing. I loved his patience and how he gently but firmly eases himself in Max’s trust circle.
Max is fragile but only physically. Emotionally he is a lion with a spine of steel. He has always been a victim of hatred and due to his asshole father; Max has been conditioned to never standing up for himself and hiding his true self. But he had a fiery will burning behind his frail outer shell. He stands up and faces the world again and again after he is beaten and broken. Jake helps Max in building his much needed confidence and the outcome is stellar. Max struggles but he is a changed individual with a lover, family, friends and a confident self at the end.
The romance is slow-burn which suited this story beautifully. Max does not trust easy so the slow but steady development of his friendship and then romance with Jake was very real and believable. Both wanted more than friendship but they did not want to rock the boat and ruin it all. Jake thinks Max is straight whereas Max thinks the same of Jake. This leads to some delicious, slow-burn anticipation which stokes the fires of the MC’s already heated chemistry.
The ending was perfect. Max’s confession amidst friends and family and a sky full of fireworks is movie worthy. I loved it. I loved Jake and Max’s journey to a sweet and bright future together. Jake’s family was awesome in every which way and I also loved how Jake gets his beloved daughter back in his life again. Everything slots into their right places perfectly at the end. I wanted an epilogue very badly which would have been an excellent addition (and I also wanted the bastards who hit Max to get their due which I feel was really necessary)
Overall, this book is very well-written with solid, believable characters you can connect with. It is emotional, healing with a very fitting HEA. I would definitely recommend this book!
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If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.
Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. At lot of what she writes is speculative in nature, but sometimes it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.
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Follow the Tour
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1/6 Just Love: Queer Book Reviews “Jake’s Book”
1/9 Sinfully Gay Romance “Writing Kids and Family”
1/9 MM Good Book Reviews “Character Casting”
1/10 Joyfully Jay “The Max and Jake Playlist”
1/10 Boy Meets Boy Reviews “Chatting with Jake and Max”
1/11 Love Bytes “Martial Arts Movies”
1/11 “Driving Movies”
1/12 Gay Book Reviews “Learning to Make Noise – Why I Study Self Defense”
1/12 Diverse Reader “Hobbies”
1/13 Rick R. Reed “Fruit of the Forest Pie”