Today, I have author Claire Cray in the interview chair. We’re discussing her latest release In Strange Woods, a contemporary, m/m gothic romance. Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.
1. Hello, Claire. Everyone knows about the writer you. But what about the every day you. Can you share about your personal life?
Claire: Hello! I’m a jack-of-all-trades sort of working writer who lives in Portland, Oregon, with a husband and a 2-year-old black cat. I moved back to Oregon a few years ago after a few years in Tokyo and several in New York, and I still haven’t gotten over the thrill of being back in the Pacific Northwest, which sort of defines my personal life. I spend a lot of time exploring outdoors. When I’m inside, I’m often researching local history and folklore, collecting inspiration for stories and other projects. My life is also full of lots of books, movies, baking, long phone calls with friends, and a healthy amount of laid-back green witchcraft.
2. Before I ask about the book, I see you are drawn to stories with a gothic bent. Why write stories with this element in them?
Claire: I love everything about gothic fiction, from the intensely atmospheric settings to the use of strange, surreal events to explore human emotions and psychological trauma. Give me a good character and my first instinct will be to fling them into a bewildering setting under wildly dramatic circumstances. That’s my happy place. I also love a good cast of archetypal side characters, and a storyline that’s inextricably bound to the protagonist’s mental state. I also just love the vibes! As a kid I was obsessed with old “women running from houses” paperbacks. You know those old gothic romance covers featuring frightened women in windswept nightgowns fleeing dark, ominous mansions, sometimes stalked by some lean, sexy-looking shadow? One day I’d love to write one of these, but make it gay.
3. I read the book’s blurb. Where did the idea come from that inspired you to create In Strange Woods?
Claire: Years ago I decided to move from Tokyo to New York, stopping on the way to spend a summer with family on the rural Oregon Coast. I loved Oregon, and I’d loved Tokyo, and I expected to love New York, too…but I didn’t. At all. It was a huge, awful shock. But I was fascinated by how we can feel so connected to some places and not others, sometimes inexplicably. The extreme contrasts between New York City and rural Oregon (and even Portland) were also really compelling to me. Soon I had this idea in my head about a New Yorker suddenly discovering roots in the backwoods of Oregon. When I moved back a few years ago, Hunter and James and their circumstances started taking shape in my head, and here we are.
4. Let’s talk about the main characters. What will readers love most about James, and what will make readers want to shake him?
Claire: Despite being drenched in privilege and personal problems, James has this sort of constant, keen interest his surroundings and the people he meets. It gives him a down-to-earth charisma that’s not showy at all, but sneakily endears him to people. On the other hand, he’s not doing well when the book starts, and his alcohol abuse and recklessness might make you want to shake him.
5. The same for Hunter. What will readers love most about him, and why will they want to shake him?
Claire: Hunter’s a kind-hearted dude who’s just trying to do his best! I hope readers are moved by his dilemma, which is that he deeply loves his rural life, but has all but resigned himself to loneliness as a gay man in the middle of nowhere. You’ll want to hug him, but also yell at him to dream bigger!
6. Who is your least favourite character, and why?
Claire: I’d hate to reveal any villains, so I’ll go with Officer Brady.
7. What do you think readers will love most about the book?
Claire: The dreamy setting, and how it infuses the story.
8. What do you think the readers will find most surprising about the book?
Claire: Maybe that “grunge” is just punk rock for soft introverts from the woods.
9. If readers asked you why they should purchase In Strange Woods, what you would tell them?
Claire: I’d say if you appreciate Pacific Northwest vibes, you can’t really go wrong with this book. From the setting to the characters to the storyline, I really tried to evoke the most unique and endearing qualities of this rugged, remote little part of the world, where the land itself feels like family and a stormy night can make you fall in love.
10. You have quite the backlist. Which was your personal favourite to write, and why?
Claire: I made a lot of amateur mistakes when I started out in self-publishing, so I’m actually working to clean up my backlist now. I think Hidden Talents will always be my personal favorite. It’s probably no coincidence that it’s the weirdest and most polarizing. But I’m proud of the character development in that book, and Jin and Ken have without a doubt the greatest, most interesting slow burn romance I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing. I’d love to top them, but haven’t come close yet.
11. Staying with your backlist, if a reader is new to your work, which one would you recommend they read first, and why?
Claire: It would have to be Merrick. It’s an odd little paranormal historical romance in an interesting setting—upstate New York in 1799—and has all that gothic good stuff, with a heaping side of cottagecore. It’s a slow burn romance between two characters brimming with mutual fascination and respect. As my first and quite hastily written novel, it has its flaws, but still charms. Plus, it contains what’s probably the hottest make-out scene in my backlist.
12. Can you share what you are currently working on?
Claire: I’m just wrapping up my Spooky Season newsletter event, where I’ve been sending out a free short, spooky m/m story every Friday for six weeks. It’s been tons of weird fun. Now I’ll be gathering the stories into a collection called Spooky Smutty Stories 2 (the first volume came out in 2019). It’s just kind of a fun side-release. I’m a ghost story nerd, and I always thought it would be cool to do a smutty adult version of books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
13. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Claire: When characters seem to wake up and start making their own choices without any input from me.
14. What do you enjoy least about writing?
Claire: That weird little pit stop somewhere between the second draft and publication when you suddenly decide the whole thing is a big goofy pile of unoriginal garbage filled with your worst and most boring idiosyncratic ideas, and all your beta readers have just been playing along while secretly wishing they could dump you because your talent has obviously vanished and now you’re just wasting their time with bizarre fanfiction based on your own maladaptive daydreams. Maybe.
15. I enjoy doing random questions, so please humour me:
- What’s your favourite movie?
Three-way tie between Mulholland Drive, The Handmaiden, and Wayne’s World.
- What book is currently in your e-reader?
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan. I’ve never read her before, but I loved the title!
- Who’s your favourite musical group?
- What song puts a smile on your face?
“Been Caught Stealin’” by Jane’s Addiction
- What’s your favourite movie?
16. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Claire: Support your local activists, stand up for vulnerable people, and if you’re in the U.S., VOTE!
Book Title: In Strange Woods
Author: Claire Cray
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Romantic Mystery, M/M Gothic Romance
Heat Rating: 3 – 4 flames
Length: 71 370 words /204 pages
In the stormy coastal woods of the Pacific Northwest, roots run deep and passions run wild.
Blurb: Reeling with grief after the mysterious massacre of his wealthy family, moody New York photographer James Worthington Crane decides to take his downward spiral somewhere far away: to the rural Oregon Coast, where he’s just inherited a random piece of property hidden somewhere in the woods upriver.
But when James pulls into the decaying seaside town of Brooks, everyone thinks he’s someone else—an elusive local outlaw named Beau. Now James must fight through his grief to unravel a tangled web of family secrets and forgotten history…with help from a soft-spoken local hunk named Hunter Quaid.
Hunter’s been on his own since he left his fundamentalist family at the age of fifteen. It’s taken years of hard work to build the steady life he has now, fixing up seaside houses while living alone in a trailer by the river. Then James blows in like a winter storm, disturbing the peace and stirring up a hunger like nothing he’s ever felt.
As Hunter helps James search for the truth, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways—and they begin to discover what it means to find out where you really belong.
Note: It is a standalone book.
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
Hunter pulled his truck into one of the slanted parking spaces along the Brooks sea wall and turned off the ignition, cutting off Bobbie Gentry in the middle of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ to let the roar of the waves take over. It was windy out, and he took a second to rake his dark-blond hair into a stubby ponytail at the nape of his neck before getting out of the truck.
His work boots hit the asphalt with a heavy thud, and he strolled over to the rustic stone barricade to look out at the dark ocean. A wave immediately exploded up in front of him, white foam fanning out and dissolving like a burst of fireworks, and he filled his lungs with the sharp, salty air. It never got old, no matter how many times he came here. None of it did, though. Not the trees, the rivers, the sunsets, the storms. This rugged little chunk of the coast had been his most consistent, and sometimes his only, source of joy since the first summer his parents dropped him off at his grandma’s place upriver, where he now lived alone.
Today had been long as hell, but satisfying. He was in the middle of renovating a beautiful midcentury house on Cedar Crest, a wooded cliffside high up on the north edge of town. It was the biggest project he’d ever landed since striking out on his own as a contractor, and it was turning out to be a dream come true. The owner was some Portland banker who didn’t give a shit what he did as long as he stayed within budget, and Hunter relished the freedom to make actual design choices.
Matter of fact, life was pretty good these days, wasn’t it? Business was good, anyway, and that was a lot. Yeah. Steady work with nobody telling him what to do, a place to sleep by the river, all the ocean air he wanted every day…what more could he ask for? There was a time when he wouldn’t have dared to dream so—
A car alarm went off suddenly, jarring him from his thoughts, and he turned his head. Several seagulls were scattering noisily from the sea wall near a black hatchback several spaces away, its horn blasting and lights flashing. He couldn’t see what had set it off. A nosy gull, maybe, or the splash of a wave. At any rate, that wrapped up his relaxing after-work sit by the ocean.
But just as he was about to turn back to his truck, the driver’s side door of the hatchback clunked open and slowly creaked ajar.
Hunter watched, intrigued, as a hand slipped out through the crack, followed by an arm, and then a mop of wavy dark hair. Then, to his amazement, an entire tall, slim man slid out onto the pavement, pooling there in a tangle of long limbs and dark clothing.
The alarm was still making a ruckus. The man groaned low and rolled to his side, wrestling with himself for a moment before yanking a key fob out of his back pocket. He jabbed it toward the car several times until the alarm stopped, then fell on his back with an unintelligible mutter. Just then, a big wave spouted over the wall and showered him with seawater.
Hunter winced sympathetically. Hell of a place to be drunk off your ass. Dude definitely wasn’t from around here. He looked about Hunter’s age, stylish in a cool, classic kind of way. Black jeans, black boots, battered brown leather jacket. Nothing flashy, but obviously outside the local dress code of Carhartts, hooded sweatshirts, and rain gear. Hunter couldn’t help admiring the long lines of the stranger’s body, his carelessly tousled hair.
With a shake of his head and a soft sigh, he turned his gaze back toward the ocean again. Life was good, and all. He loved it here. So what if it wasn’t overflowing with romantic options for a quiet gay man with a taste for tall, slim guys dressed like drifters from the 1960s? No one got to have it all.
Life is good, he told himself stubbornly. Life is fine. Life’s going just great.
The sound of an approaching engine made him glance back over his shoulder, and suddenly he sprang into motion before he could think.
The drunk man was staggering onto the highway, his dark silhouette backlit by the high beams of a log truck that was roaring around the bend.
Another half-second would have been too late. The driver didn’t even seem to see them. The air from the passing truck threw him off balance as he yanked the drunken dumbass out of the road, and they both fell back on the pavement.
“You okay?” Hunter asked breathlessly.
Claire Cray writes gay romance featuring hot, complicated men in weird situations. Offbeat and character-driven with a gothic bent, her work has been described as deeply atmospheric and a little bit strange.
Born and raised in the rural Pacific Northwest, Claire takes inspiration from its rich, moody vibes: the ancient forests, rugged coastlines, eccentric characters, and whispers of dark mystery in even the tiniest little towns. Combine all that with steamy sensuality and psychological drama, and you’ve got a story by Claire Cray.
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