Bru Baker stops by today to talk about herself and her newest book – Island House. She’s also going to be giving away a free eBook copy to one lucky reader who leaves a comment at the end.

Guest Author: Bru Baker

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Welcome Bru, why don’t you start by telling everyone a bit about yourself.

Thanks for having me, Andy! I’m a journalist by trade and training, so it feels pretty strange for me to be the one answering questions instead of asking them. It’s more fun on this side of the questions!

I’ve worked in newsrooms for more than a decade, and now I’m freelancing so I can focus on fiction. It’s a whole new ballgame, and I love it! When you work for a newspaper you cover what’s handed to you, and I’m definitely enjoying this freedom to pick what I want to write about. Even with my freelance work I’m in a position where I can pick and choose which projects to work on. It’s pretty liberating after so many years of covering whatever came through the police scanner while I was on call or whichever public meeting was scheduled for a night I was working.

Your first novel–Island House–was released yesterday, but this isn’t your first published work.  Tell us a bit about those and how they were different from this book.

TraditionsfromtheHeart-MEDMy first published piece of fiction was Traditions from the Heart, a short that appeared in the 2012 Dreamspinner Press Advent Calendar Anthology. It was also my first submission, so getting that acceptance letter was shocking. I’ve had a few rejections since then, but I’ve also been lucky enough to add a few more books to my Dreamspinner catalog. Diving In was another anthology short that came out in June, and my first novella, The Buyout, followed in July.

All three of those were fairly light-hearted romps. The Buyout delved a bit into corporate dealings, but like the other two the romance was easy and fun. Island House is a totally different animal because it’s pretty angsty. Niall is dealing with the loss of his partner and the feelings of guilt that arise when he finds himself interested in Ethan four years later. The entire novel is in Niall’s POV, so we get a front-row seat to his inner deliberations and guilt trips.

I love a dose of heartbreak along side my HEA, and Island House definitely delivers that. We really get to know Niall, the main character in Island House, and we get to see what drives him. It was fun to get that far into a character’s head while I was writing.

There’s a sweetness in the HEA that is consistent with my other works, though. For better or worse, I can’t seem resist going for a bit of fluff to wrap things up! That will continue with my next few shorts that are on tap. Rx for Sex is a short that will appear in the Dr. Feelgood anthology that Dreamspinner is releasing in February, and I’m also entering the editing stage on a story that will be part of the Dreamspinner Valentine’s Day celebration.

The cover art to Island House is really colorful and inviting, tells us a bit about your reaction when you got the final cover art?

I actually did a little dance in my seat when I saw it. While the book is set on Tortola and the island is integral to the storyline, it isn’t a beach romance. I didn’t want shirtless guys sunbathing or anything like that because it would have been misleading. L.C. Chase really got that, and the cover sets the perfect atmosphere for the tone of the book. She’s incredibly talented. I just absolutely fell in love with it the moment I saw it.

Okay, let’s talk specifics; tell us a bit more about Island House.

400x600_72DPI_DivingIn_LGI like romances that are a little bit messy. We all have baggage in our lives, so when the main characters meet and instantly fall for each other and start issuing declarations of love, it usually doesn’t ring true for me. That being said, I also love HEA endings. I just want them to work for it a bit.

Island House is the story of Niall Ahern finally coming to terms with the death of his longtime partner, Nolan, and moving on after four years of hiding from the world on the island. He carries a lot of guilt and regret about Nolan’s death, and those are some of the obstacles he has to overcome before he can build a relationship with his love interest in the book, Ethan Bettencourt. A few misunderstandings and wrong assumptions also get in their way, mostly because both men are horrible at communication.

Where did the inspiration come from for these characters?

I started Island House in 2010 as my National Novel Writing Month book. It was my first time trying to write a novel and my first time participating in NaNoWriMo, so I was eager to jump in headfirst. I started with enthusiasm and excitement but no plot outline or character studies. So honestly, there wasn’t concrete inspiration for any of the characters in Island House. I was just flying by the seat of my pants, making things up as I went. It was a good learning experience, but it made for a lot more work in the editing process. I love the characters that Niall and Ethan ended up as, but wow did it take a lot of work to get them there. I definitely learned that I needed a clear picture in my head of who my characters are before I start writing.

Your book is set in the Caribbean, have you ever lived there or did you just visit and fall in love with the setting.

I was born in Hawaii, so island life isn’t totally foreign to me. Granted, most of my childhood was spent in the Midwest (there are hilarious and traumatic pictures of my first snow—it’s a toss-up for whether my dog or I looked more confused and horrified), but I we spent a lot of summer back on the islands.

I’ve never actually been to Tortola, but I have visited a few other Caribbean islands. Maybe it’s just a tourist thing, but I really liked the laid-back vibe. The Caribbean seemed like a good setting for Niall to hide himself away without him really admitting that he was punishing himself. I mean, who could be miserable in such a beautiful place? (Spoiler alert: Niall manages it!)

The death of a lover is an especially emotional theme – how did you prepare to write Niall’s character?

BuyOut[The]LGI’ve never experienced the death of a partner, but my father died when I was eighteen, so I do understand the grief and heaviness of dealing with death of a loved one. I’m sure it’s magnified when that loved one is your partner, and I tried to really put myself in that situation with Niall while I was writing. I’m sure my husband was totally baffled by the extra tight hugs he got those days.

Ethan is a wealthy tech guy – without revealing too much, do you have experience in this field or was it something you researched for the book?

The wealth, not so much unfortunately, but the tech industry, yes. My husband is a programmer who works for a start-up, so I’m pretty familiar with the ups and downs of working in tech, as well as how some companies are lucky enough to hit it big, like Ethan’s did.

Tell us something interesting that is not in the blurb?

Island House is actually the first book in a three-part series called Dropping Anchor. The next book is still being written so it can’t really be marketed as a series yet, but the if all goes well that book is tentatively scheduled for release in summer 2014.

Niall doesn’t have many friends on the island, but one of his closest is Ian Mackay. Ian is self-absorbed and hardly ever serious, but he’s there for Niall when Niall needs someone. We don’t get to know Ian very well in Island House, and I’m guessing that most readers aren’t going to think much of him because Niall’s interactions with him in the book center around a failed attempt on Ian’s part to get into Niall’s pants.

Their relationship is a lot more than that, though, and it’s a central part of the next book, Finding Home. So keep that in mind when you read about Ian taking Niall out on Romeo’s Rowboat (yes, even his boat is named something ridiculous!). I promise there’s a lot more to Ian Mackay than we get to see here.

Have you ever based characters on anyone you know?

One of the main characters in The Buyout is a software architect, and I did base a lot of his character on my husband. I try to never base a character entirely on someone I know, but a lot of small things tend to creep in. I actually like that—I think it makes the characters more genuine and believable if they have quirks.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I love those first 20,000 words or so, where the story is new and I’m getting to know the characters. That’s part of the reason I enjoy writing shorts and novellas—they never really get out of that honeymoon stage for me. It’s just so much fun to craft a world and create characters.

What’s your least favorite?

As much fun as those first 20,000 words are, I’d say the last 2,000 are my least favorite. I don’t always write linearly, so going back and tying up loose ends and holes can be pretty arduous. That’s really the only part of writing that feels like actual work to me.

Since there is always another story to tell, what are you working on now?

This ties in nicely with my inability to let a storyline go! I’m working on the second book in the Dropping Anchor series now, Finding Home. It picks up about a year after Island House ends. Niall and Ethan feature heavily in the in the book, but they aren’t the main characters. We will get to see how their lives are going, and there may be wedding bells involved for them.

Finding Home focuses on Niall’s friend Ian Mackay, who we meet as an incorrigible playboy in Island House, and Ian’s realization that he’s finally ready to grow up and settle down.

The entire series centers around the theme of finding stability, and Ian has been hopping in and out of stranger’s beds for so long that he’s convinced himself that he isn’t cut out for any sort of real relationship. He meets Luke Keys, a man who seems impervious to Ian’s charms, and that really gets things started. At first it’s just Ian pursuing Luke because he’s a challenge, but it turns into something more when he actually gets to know Luke and finds himself falling for him. That completely rocks Ian’s world view and it’s a hard adjustment for him.

What have you read lately that most people haven’t read but should?

A book I go back to again and again is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Every time I read it I find a nuance or twist that I didn’t see before. It’s kind of a comfort read for me, since it reminds me of my childhood. My mother instilled a love of classic literature in me from an early age. When my elementary and middle school peers were reading Sweet Valley High and its ilk, I was cutting my literary teeth on books like Pride and Prejudice, The Fountainhead, Wuthering Heights, and  Rebecca. I still haven’t found anything that can supplant Rebecca or Wuthering Heights as my all-time favorite books.

If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise after my last answer, but I’d love to meet Daphne du Maurier. Her works had a huge impression on me when I was younger. It was really eye-opening to read books that had ambiguous or downright unhappy endings yet still felt satisfying. I’ve always been drawn to imperfect characters, and du Maurier’s work is full of them. I’d love to talk to her about how she managed to craft such compelling stories around the kind of themes and characters that most authors would run the other way from or gloss over as part of a larger overall plot. She apparently also really struggled with the manuscript for Rebecca, which never fails to give me hope when I’m stuck in one of my own manuscripts.

What’s a fun – non-writing – day for you?

We’re allowed to have non-writing days?! Someone needs to get that memo to my boss. As a freelancer, I find that I don’t have a lot of downtime. I’m actually harder on myself now than I was when I had an office to go to everyday. That’s the peril of working from home, I suppose.

On those rare days that I don’t have a fiction or freelance deadline looming, I usually try to get outside with the kids if it’s warm or hole up with them in a blanket fort and play games if it’s rainy or cold out. A few days ago it was chilly so we spent the morning at the library and then came home and built a big volcano that made a huge mess of the kitchen. That’s a pretty average day off around here.

Besides reading and writing, what else do you enjoy?

I try to carve out some time almost every day to go for a run or take a yoga class. Some of my best plot epiphanies have come four miles into a run or during Downward Dog!

I also love sketching and painting, though that usually takes a backseat to writing. I do a quick sketch on Post-It notes every night that gets packed in with the kiddos’ lunches, but that’s about as much art as I manage these days. The four year old is just starting to read, so hers are usually just the picture, but the sketches I tuck into the seven year old’s lunches are really just a veil for a daily reminder to behave at school. He doesn’t mind the note as long as it’s accompanied by a sketch of whichever character or subject has caught his fancy for the week. I try to never repeat a character during the school year, so I’m scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel by May, let me tell you.

Last question is all yours – feel free to talk about anything you want your readers to know about you, your book, anything at all.

I always feel so much pressure to share something hip about myself in situations like this! I’ve been half-tempted to take up an arcane hobby just so I sound cooler than I am. The fantasy version of me (she always has an immaculate house, never feeds her family take-out, and her kids never curse in front of grandparents and teachers) wants to learn how to build furniture, but in reality I don’t even have time to match my kids’ socks when I put away the laundry, so carpentry is going to have to wait.

A year ago I’d have said the fantasy version of me was an author, but that’s become a reality. I really do feel incredibly lucky to be able to be a working writer. (Maybe there’s hope for furniture building after all!)

Thanks for being my guest, now it’s time to plug your work.

Blurb:

IslandHouse_FinalUnable to move on after the death of his lover, British expat Niall Ahern clings to Nolan’s dream of living in the Caribbean by moving to Tortola. Once there, he finds that not even the beauty of the island can fill the hole in his heart. Broke and spent in nearly every way imaginable, Niall wants out of the lonely, miserable, guilt-ridden life he’s carved out for himself.

When Ethan Bettencourt, a wealthy tech guru, shows up in British Virgin Islands looking to purchase a second home, he gives Niall hope that he can move on. Both men fall hard and fast, but Niall finds piloting his yacht in the midst of a hurricane is nothing compared to weathering life’s simple misunderstandings. As their troubles come between them, Niall is left to wonder if he and Ethan are over before they’ve begun.

Buy Link:

Paperback: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4365

Ebook: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4364

Excerpt:

One of my favorite secondary characters in Island House is Clare, a woman Niall meets on a cross-country flight who somehow manages to get past his defenses and become a close friend in a relatively short amount of time. Here’s their first meeting:

By the time Niall had collapsed into the too-small airplane seat, sandwiched between an old man and a woman in her early twenties, he was sweaty and tense with the beginnings of a headache curling up his neck.

“Would you like one?”

Niall looked up, fighting the urge to shake his head to clear the fog in his brain. He’d been staring out the window through the half- opened shade, but apparently the woman thought he’d been looking at her.

“I’m sorry?”

“You were looking at my protein bar,” she said, gesturing with the beige-colored bar in her hand, which until that moment Niall hadn’t realized was food. It certainly didn’t look like food. “I have several, if you’d like one. I always bring extra on long flights.”

Niall studied her, eyes narrowed a bit. She was a slip of a thing, probably because she never ate any real food. He had a fleeting urge to feed her.

“That’s kind of you, but I’m fine.” He rifled through his bag, hoping to end the conversation by finding something to read so he looked occupied, but Camille hadn’t thought to pack any books or magazines. He supposed it would be even ruder to listen to his iPod, but he really wasn’t in the mood to talk.

“Are you sure? You look a little peaked. Have you eaten today?” The woman twisted in her seat so she could get a better look at him, her lips pursed as she took inventory of his flushed cheeks and tense shoulders. “We could probably get a glass of water or some juice for you from the flight attendant. You look dehydrated.”

Niall stared at her, not sure how to respond. She didn’t seem to notice his silence, barreling on with a diatribe about the importance of drinking enough water while on a flight and the general poor health practices that consumed today’s society.

“Airline regulations today make it so difficult for travelers to take proper care of themselves,” the woman was saying, her expression animated as she berated airport security for not allowing passengers to bring bottles of water with them through the

checkpoints.

“I always bring an empty bottle with me to fill up at a water fountain once I’ve reached my terminal,” she said, rummaging through her bag and coming up with a garishly pink aluminum bottle that was scraped and dented from heavy use. “I take it with me everywhere. Clips right on to my belt when I’m rock climbing, even, see?”

She pointed to the small carabiner clip, and Niall felt himself nod, completely caught off guard by the woman and her seeming ability to talk without stopping for breath. Rock climbing explained the dents in the bottle, at least.

“What am I doing? Oh, Clary Sage Smith, what is your problem? You’d think you’d never met a good-looking man, before,” she muttered to herself. Niall wondered if she’d intended for him to hear her quiet aside or not.

“I apologize. I get a little carried away sometimes,” she said, thrusting her hand into the space between them. He took it automatically, as surprised by her firm grip as he had been by her enthusiastic speech about hydration. “Clare Smith. Self-avowed
hydration
nut and soon-to-be naturopath, in case you hadn’t
guessed.”

Island House

Contest:

To be entered for a chance to win an eBook copy of Island House just comment before 11:59 pm EST on November 14, 2013.  If you can’t think of what to say, list your favorite vacation spot.  A winner will be selected using Randomizer.org from all comments during the contest period.

Bio:

Bru Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for newspapers and magazines. She knew she was destined to be a writer by the tender age of 4, when she started publishing a weekly newspaper for her family. What they called nosiness she called a nose for news, and no one was surprised when she ended up with degrees in journalism and political science and started a career in journalism.

While reporting the news is her day job, fiction is Bru’s true love. Most evenings you can find her curled up with a mug of tea, some fuzzy socks, and a book or her laptop. Whether it’s creating her own
characters or getting caught up in someone else’s, there’s no denying that Bru is happiest when she’s engrossed in a book. She and her husband live in the Midwest with their two young children, whose antics make finding time to write difficult but never let life get boring.

Social Media Links:

Twitter http://www.twitter.com/bru_baker

Website: http://www.bru-baker.com