Let me start by saying that I don't shy away from controversy, as you'll probably know if you've made your way to this blog. I've tackled subjects such as rape, murder, suicide, domestic abuse, snuff movies and let's not forget cucumbers-as-dildos and I've plenty more in my arsenal (ooh-er). I don't write sugar and spice, I write real, tortured characters and scenarios your mother wouldn't approve of.
But even I thought twice about writing a story set around 9/11.
I wanted to write something for Silver Publishing's Men in Uniform series. Something light-hearted, I thought. Sexy and amusing, something to tap into the universal uniform fetish. First I thought of a cop, not a tough decision as most of my books end up featuring cops. Then I thought of double-hotness by teaming him with a firefighter.
That's when the story went off the rails and down into dark territory.
When I think of firefighters, I can't help but think of the 343 who died on 9/11. I baulked at this topic. I thought I'd offend American readers, but then plenty of other nationalities were killed that day too, why should it be just the Americans I offended? I thought of the topics I'd covered so far and realised this would be the big one. It's sacred right, how dare an author write an m/m romance around it?
With trepidation, I started writing it. I thought Silver wouldn't accept it for Men in Uniform due to the serious subject matter so I looked at potential book covers if it was to come out as a stand-alone novella.
I found these powerful images.
Here's the blurb:
Ten years after the horror of 9/11 and the loss of his firefighter partner Justin, former NYPD cop Damon Summerfield is back in New York for Christmas with his family. Still deep in mourning with no end in sight, he visits Justin's favourite bar near Ground Zero and there meets Simon, a member of the FDNY and fellow survivor of 9/11. Damon can't bear to give their attraction a chance, not when he thinks Simon's job will tear them apart someday...
Can Simon help Damon with his grief and can they build a future together?
I'm not a stranger to writing about grief, but writing about Simon and Damon's grief is writing about the grief of a nation, of the world. As Simon reminesces on Christmas Day, 2011:
No, not now. Not today. Let me just have one day off from thinking about it. He didn’t need this shit on Christmas Day. Why did Damon have to ruin his whole day with that question—Were you there? At times, Simon felt like he was still there. Still part of the rubble, the bodies, the choking dust. Still a survivor, when he didn’t know if he warranted it or not.
As far as he was concerned, those who died had got off lightly.
Simon and Damon's romance is dark and troubled. Their sex is rough and explicit. Graphic flashbacks illustrate both their continuing suffering.
Simon hadn’t heard the radio order to evacuate Tower One after the collapse of Tower Two. He didn’t know the South Tower had collapsed but he’d felt the building shake violently beneath him and something told him his number would be up if he didn’t get out of there. Luckily he’d been on his way back down to the ground anyway with a group of survivors, carrying one badly hurt woman over his shoulder. He’d passed a fellow FDNY firefighter going up on the nineteenth floor and a cop behind Simon had told the guy, “You need to evacuate, now.”
The firefighter told the cop, “I don’t take orders from cops.” He disappeared up the stairs and Simon turned around to look at the cop who had given the advice.
The cop, covered in dust, bleeding from his hairline, attractive in his uniform—Simon loved cops—shrugged at him tiredly. He joined with Simon in helping his band of survivors down the stairs, stopping to lift one woman in his arms who was too weary and shocked to go further. The two of them reached the lobby, handing the two women over to paramedics and guiding the rest of their charges out via the north and east exits after they were told falling debris and bodies rendered the other exits impassable.
A group of firefighters stood about in the lobby looking disheartened, unsure what to do, some streaked with dirt and soot, others on the verge of tears with every thud that indicated a falling body.
Simon shook the cop’s hand and thanked him for his help and the cop smiled, a smudge of dirt on one apple cheek, his teeth bright. If it hadn’t been the most terrible day of his life, Simon would have got his number with no beating around the bush. Instead, the cop walked away and as Simon watched, he was hit by a falling piece of masonry on the concourse outside.
This book wasn't written for titillation, nor was it written to incite controversy. It was difficult to write but I'm glad I did it.
Hate mail to the usual address please.
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