GETTING IN TOUCH
I knew Touch of Salar was going to be special when I first started writing it. I've never had a story come to me so easily or fully formed before. I wrote like a woman possessed and finished the first draft in about two weeks. The story excited me so much I stayed up way too late with my laptop propped on pillows as I huddled in bed. After I turned out the lights, I often had to turn them back on to make more notes.
The secret behind all this joyful creativity is that Touch of Salar was the first full blown m/m erotic story that I allowed myself to write. Yes, I'd dreamed up these stories for years, but I'd never put them on the page. I believed I was part of a very small sub-group of women who maybe love men a little too much. I had no clue there was a huge market for the stories I ached to write. I owe it to my friend Draven St. James for showing me the light.
After investigating Loose Id's submission policies I decided to take a risk and combine my man love obsession with my usual genre, fantasy. Once I gave myself permission to follow my heart, the story poured out of me. I had an amazingly fun time writing it and it was so, so thrilling to get that acceptance email from Loose Id. You mean I can do what I love, have a great time, and get published? Wow.
Part of the reason Touch of Salar was such a kick to write is because the character of M'lan existed before the novel came into being. M'lan, the monk with the power to heal with his touch, gradually formed out of a fantasy I've entertained for a long time.
I have a small curve in my spine that's caused me a lot of pain since I was a teenager and I've come to view a massage as an essential, nearly sacred form of self-care. As I recline on the table and the strong hands of the masseuse explore my body in highly intimate ways, I often indulge in a meditation that involves visualizing a magical healing energy extending out of their fingers into the deepest parts of my body, probing and releasing the pain locked inside.
Being a writer of fantasy, I began to build a character based on this experience. Wouldn't it be beyond fabulous if the masseuse with the magic touch were also a gorgeous man? A man who was so sensitive he knew exactly where our tensions lurk and how to unlock them? And what else could he do with that power? It's a good thing my masseuse (and chiropractor and physical therapist) never knew what was going on in my mind.
Massage is so intimate, and I admire those who can remain entirely professional while rubbing their hands all over someone's body. But what if they can't? What if that certain someone comes to them, disrobes and stretches out in a completely vulnerable position? I imagine it could be difficult. A key ingredient in M'lan's story came to me one time when my masseuse was massaging my hand. For some reason that specific part of the body struck me as more intimate than any other.
Holding hands is so basic, so sweet, and yet so powerful. The experience brought to tears to my eyes, revealing to me a longing for human intimacy I'd been repressing. I wondered about the power of simple touch to reach deep inside, beyond physical wounds, to emotional secrets and basic longings for touch that we all have buried deep within us. And so M'lan's lover began to emerge, someone with deeply buried wounds that had never been exposed and that made him a very dangerous person indeed.
I love to write romance mainly because I find it thrilling to take opposites, throw them together and see how they react, how they threaten, anger, dazzle and eventually complete each other. M'lan stepped fully formed out of my head and into the healing temple of Salar. Jamil the assassin wasn't far behind.
The healer and the killer—the monk and the warrior. Once I introduced them the story literally spilled out of me, because along with massage, writing and releasing these fantasies has become an essential form of self-care for me. I hope that readers can take a deeper sort of enjoyment from the fantasy as well
In a world ruled by tyrannical kings and fickle gods, the young monk M'lan finds himself at the center of royal intrigue as his healing powers attract the attention of his superiors. When he learns the handsome warrior whose body he’s tending to is not only a noble, but a king's assassin, any attachment to him might prove fatal. Despite the danger, he can't stop himself from falling in love. Can he risk the abandon of passion when a slip of the tongue might force his lover to execute him?
Major Jamil Jarka comes to the temple with one intention—heal his wounds so he can return to the fight against the rebellion. When the monk assigned to him turns out to be stunningly attractive, he sees this as a pleasant distraction, no more. But soon he finds himself becoming obsessed with M'lan and is torn between the fear of betrayal and the lure of love.
Sinister forces strive to turn the monk and the warrior against each other—a conflict neither will survive if they cannot trust their lives to love and the healing power of Salar.
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The sun pierced a crevice in the mountains, and M’lan raised a hand to shield his eyes. He stood on a desert battlefield littered with the wounded, the dying, and the dead. He held a blood-smeared sword in his other hand. He let it drop.
Dawn cut across the broken earth in a fiery lance, the anger of Salar, god of light, exposing man’s cruelty in shocking, vivid detail. Blood everywhere, limbs hacked, horses screaming. Hundreds of cold, sightless eyes, all turning toward him.
M’lan stepped forward and tripped over a body at his feet. He fell, not onto a rock-strewn desert, but marble steps.
As his palms hit a cool stone floor, he shook his head in confusion. His vision wavered between illusion and reality. On his hands and knees, he breathed deep and tried to remember who he was and where he was. He raised his head, and the tentacles of the night terrors recoiled into the shadowed corners of a temple, chased away by the sun that was indeed cresting the mountain. He was not a warrior but a monk, a healing monk, and he was in the temple of Ka’alar, not some hideous battlefield.
He let out a shaky breath and climbed the last few steps on hands and knees. The nightmares were getting worse, and so powerful that they chased him all the way out of his cell into the blessed light of day. He thanked Salar for the dawn, then groggily staggered to his feet. He dimly recalled rising and dressing before dawn, but the dream had hunted him down and reclaimed him on his way to the temple.
The fading aroma of night-blooming cacti still sweetened the air of the healing room. Clay ovens had been fired to heat it, but a chill remained in the open space. M’lan was grateful, because the nightmare had left him drenched with sweat. He leaned against a marble column and soaked in the rose-tinted glow of the sunrise. Morning was his favorite time of day, a fresh start, a new beginning. Every day, he channeled divine energy to mend fallen warriors. Every night, as if he became a warrior himself, he relived the horror his patients experienced in real life.
His heartbeat slowed, and he took a moment to clear his mind and prepare for the first patient of the day. He’d trained for years to calm his mind and cool his passions. While he was busy treating his patients, passion was not a problem. Despite the array of beautiful bodies he worked on, he stayed as cool as a mountain lake, his mind still as he concentrated on sinews, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. At night, though, his passions erupted in those violent dreams of war, killing, and terror.
The monks of Ka’alar Healing Temple exclusively served the noble classes of the kingdom of Rakkan. In recent years, most of their clients were soldiers, officers who’d been injured in the ongoing battle with Jirnan Province to the south. The monks also treated elite forces of no particular rank or designation—spies, assassins, sons and daughters of the nobility trained to serve the king in secret and deadly ways. The only reason M’lan knew this was because of the nightmares. He saw what his clients did, where they went, who they killed. If anyone ever found out, he’d be executed on the spot.
Cobwebs clearing, he hurried to wipe down the soft-padded table in the middle of the room with essential oils and snapped out a fresh cloth to smooth on top of it. Today he was to begin the healing process on a new patient. For the sake of secrecy and discretion, patients were referred to by title. Today’s client, if spoken to, was to be addressed as Major. He was male, twenty-eight passages of age, and had been in the intensive-care ward of the temple for three weeks.
M’lan’s role came into play after the most grievous injuries were patched, wounds closed, and vital functions stabilized. He put the final touches on a body to make it as fine and fit as before whatever trauma had broken it. He aligned the chi as well as the bones, muscles, and nerves. He released locked-in trauma, allowing the body to flow naturally again, maybe better than before, if the connection was right and the patient willing.
Some warriors only wanted to be patched up so they could return to the fight. Others believed a complete healing cycle would make them better at what they did and less likely to fail again. They all took injury as a personal failure.
The entry chimes sounded, and M’lan bowed his head, as was custom when nobility entered. The patient wore a black silk robe, head covered with a hood. He moved with grace and a lightness of foot, unlike most of the warriors M’lan worked on, who tended to be heavyset and muscle-bound. By the tang of sulfur salts, M’lan knew the man had already warmed up with exercise and soaked in the healing pools. Good. A committed patient was so much easier to work with.
The man crossed the tiled floor without a sound and stepped up to the table. From behind him, M’lan watched the silk robe drop to the floor before he raised his eyes, ready to assess what he saw.
His breath caught. Even though he was used to seeing well-sculpted, muscular bodies, this one was exceptional. Faint scars crisscrossed the truly beautiful almond skin but were obscured by the swirls and tangled vines of an elaborate tattoo that climbed from the crease beneath the man’s left buttock to the base of his neck. His torso tapered from the broad shoulders to a slim waist. The arms and legs were lean yet muscular, and the buttocks tight and hard. He had glossy black hair that flashed red in the sunlight. M’lan glimpsed a fine high cheekbone, sculpted jawline, and aquiline nose. A true son of Rakkan.
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BEHIND THE SCENES WITH ALEXIS DURAN
Has your perspective on the writing process changed since you became published?
I'm much more aware of the presence of the reader. I'm always asking myself how my readers will feel about where I'm taking the characters, especially with the series. Before being published, I guess I'd say was more self-indulgent and if I wanted to change things or take them in a radical new direction, I would. Now I have to think about the expectations I've created and the story questions that need to be answered.
Do you work best on a deadline, or do you need freedom from time constraints?
Deadlines work well for me, as long as I don't set unreasonable ones. I absolutely love NaNoWriMo and my best writing is fast and furious. Deadlines stop me from lollygagging.
Is there a word or phrase you catch yourself overusing?
I have a couple pages of notes just on that. The list became much funnier after the first time I had a sex scene professionally edited. Let's just say that there are a lot of synonyms for "hard" and I'm working on using all of them.
How do you know you’ve written a good book?
I re-read the entire manuscript before each rewrite. If I still enjoy it after the fifth or sixth time through, I think it must be pretty good.
Are you a Swooper (write first, edit later,) a Basher (edit each sentence as you go,) or both?
I never heard those terms before. I'm definitely a Swooper. The most valuable advice I ever received as a budding novelist was "fix it in the rewrite". If I tried to perfect every sentence or scene as I went, I'd still be working on the first novel. During the first draft, it's all about the story trying to get out of my head and onto the page. I know I'll be able to make it pretty later.
What are you currently working on? How is it different from other books you’ve written?
I’m working on an erotic space opera. It's the first time I've really given my quirky sense of humor full reign in the erotica stories. I love to play with how silly our culture is and in science fiction you can really do a lot of humorous social commentary. It will also be my first erotic SF as well as my first full length novel in the m/m erotic genre.
Is there anything you haven’t written that you would like to try some day? Why have you avoided it in the past?
I really want to write a write an erotic romance set in the Victorian Era. I've already plotted it out in my head and tried to start it once, but I stopped when I realized I didn't have a good handle on all the nitty gritty details, including everything from currency denominations to the evolution of undergarments. It's funny, you grow up reading Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens and think you really know the time and culture, but when you try to write it, suddenly you find great gaping holes in your vocabulary. I'm intimidated by all the research and the process of incorporating a zillion facts into my mind so that it will flow when I need it, but I really love that story so someday I'll knuckle down and do it.
When and where can readers look forward to seeing you this year?
I'm attending the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-up in Seattle this September, as a participant, not a presenter, but I'll be there. That's the only thing on the calendar so far.
What do you feel are the most important aspects to a good romance?
Strong, well-rounded characters. Even if they're not physically or emotionally strong, they've got to have unbendable passions and desires. A great romance character will fight to overcome his or her weaknesses in order to achieve their ultimate desire, which in romance is almost always an intimate relationship with that certain someone. Once you have your interesting, amazing characters on the stage, then you need conflict, conflict, conflict. That is where the tension, anticipation, frustration and release comes from that makes romance so sweet.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process?
The first rewrite, when I have to make sense out of the crazy mess of the first draft.
How do you feel about being the center of attention?
I don't like it! Makes me squirm (and not in a good way.)
How do you feel, generally, about the opposite sex?
I adore them. That's why I write gay romance!
What is your worst habit?
Descending into despair whenever things don't go my way, like if I get a so-so review or a story rejection, it's the end of my world for at least several hours.
How deeply does your job / social role define you as a person?
Being a writer, a creative person, is extremely important to me. It's my raison d'être. The day job, not so much.
Book: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
Movie: Blade Runner
Band: The Clash
Quote: "Whatever you can do, or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has Magic, Power, and Genius in it." Goethe
TV Show: Firefly, and more currently, Castle.
Guilty Indulgence: The next story. I have a huge stack of first drafts and projects nearing completion, but I just can't say no when new characters come knocking.
Dessert: Caramel ice cream with the salty bits in it.
Time of Day: Dawn. I don't see it that often, but when I do it's awesome.
Alexis Duran was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. At the University of Oregon, her fascination with people and relationships led her to major in Sociology, but her main love has always been creative writing. She has worked in museums, in fashion, in finance and film production. Her favorite job so far was Administrative Assistant in a haunted Victorian Mansion. She's had several short stories published in the mystery, horror and literary genres, and one contemporary fantasy novel. Her fiction has won several awards including the Rupert Hughes Award from the Maui Writers Conference. She's thrilled to enter the realm of erotic romance with the publication of her novel Touch of Salar. She lives with one dog and four and half cats. She is currently working on the next Salar novel and several other erotic novellas.
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