Interview with C. M. McKenna00:00
This is my first author interview I've done on the blog and I'm both very excited and very nervous about it. I read Badger by C. M. McKenna (aka Cara McKenna) back in September and this story with all its intensity and darkness and just a sliver of hope has stayed with me ever since. I had so many thoughts about it which I tried to express in my review but I also had so many questions I wanted to ask Cara. I gathered my courage (and wits) and approach Ms McKenna who was wonderful and agree to my request for interview.
So, this happened.
I’d like to welcome Ms McKenna on my blog today answering some questions about her non-romantic love story Badger, which she published earlier this year with Brain Mill Press.
Ellie: Welcome, Cara and thank you agreeing to do this interview. Badger left a lasting impression and I have many questions about this story, so I’m diving right in.
Badger is unlike anything I’ve ever read, stunning, raw and genre-defying. What inspired you to write this story?
Cara: Why thank you! I actually wrote it way back in late 2011, fairly early in my writing career, at a point when I was feeling restless and unsettled and unsure what to do next. I’d gotten some shitty medical news, and one gloomy September morning I was riding the train into Boston on my way to a minor surgery, feeling pretty gloomy myself, and I was watching the graffiti-peppered overpasses slide by as I approached North Station. I remembered a story a good friend had told me about a friend of hers. He was a young man with some mental health issues who would occasionally go online, posing as an underage kid, and invite creepy old men to his house, like DIY To Catch a Predator. Once the pervert would arrive he’d assault them from his balcony with a paintball rifle. This struck me as both horrifying and strangely charming, though by the time I was riding that train I hadn’t thought about it in a few years. That anecdote was the seed that Badger grew out of, watered by my own strange mental forecast that autumn. I never did meet that friend of my friend.
Ellie: This is such a curious tale! You did make a much deeper and darker story out of it and I really like how it is all grounded in real life.
Badger is not a romance in the strict sense of the word but still I’d say it’s a story about love (and abuse and hurt). I’m curious how you would define/describe this book.
Cara: These days I tell people it’s lit fic, for lack of a better term, and a fucked-up love story, but no, definitely not a romance. Romance, as a genre, requires that a few specific promises be kept to the reader regarding how the story is going to unfold, and Badger breaks some of those promises. My publisher calls it “neo-noir,” though I’d never heard that label before. I think that just means it has a gritty, grimy, urban, almost comic-bookish feel about it, which fits, I’d say.
Ellie: The story is as much about Badger as it is about Adrian. Do you have a favourite of the two/ Who was easier to write?
Cara: Well, the book’s written entirely from Adrian’s perspective, and I found her easy to inhabit. I’ve never been addicted to Vicodin or fallen in love with a mentally ill bicycle vigilante, but we both went to MassArt, both lived in Jamaica Plain, both floundered our fair share and abused Nyquil on occasion. She came very naturally for me, as a narrator. Badger would have been a far more challenging point-of-view to maintain. His perspective, if I pulled an E.L. James and wrote a companion book in his POV, would read completely differently from Adrian’s version. He’s very visceral, very much locked in the present, very reactionary. He possesses almost zero self-awareness. His dialogue and actions were intuitive to write, but I have almost as little understanding of what goes on in his head as Adrian does. It’s not a place I’d relish spending an entire book in.
Ellie: I guess this means there won’t be a story from Badger’s POV? I personally feel we leave Adrian at a good place, hopeful for her future, yet I’m wondering if you have any plans to write more of her story.
Cara: I don’t, no. Often when people ask me that question about a book, my answer has to be “Never say never,” but with this story I know for sure it ends where it ends. I love Adrian, but a sequel to Badger without Badger himself…? I just can’t see that having the same dynamism of the original.
Ellie: As a follow-up to the previous question, what was the easiest/most difficult thing about writing this story? Did you have to do a lot of research and what kind?
Cara: The book was fairly easy. Or rather, it poured out of me very quickly—110,000 words in about three and a half months, with zero halts in the inspiration department. It wasn’t easy, per se, because it’s a pretty rough book full of ugly emotions, but it did flow, probably as much as any other story I’ve written. It certainly flowed the easiest of any book of that length that I’ve written. I didn’t have to do much research; I know Boston the way you know a fond ex-lover’s body. I researched substance abuse queries, mainly. Random things like whether or not drinking cough medicine can fuck up a drug test (pro tip: it can.)
Ellie: That’s a good tip :) Will keep it in mind.
This book is a big departure from your other works. Were you worried how your romance fans will take it?
Cara: Sort of. I mean, my romances range from sweetly dirty all the way through dark and gritty, so I knew my readership was up for a high-ish level of angst and some pretty kinky sex. Still, Badger takes all that to a much starker place. There’s some quite gnarly sex scenes and dubious consent at times, and just some real meanness, in some of the sex. I was prepared to publish it under my usual pen name, provided it was made clear it wasn’t a romance, though in the end I decided to tweak my name to add a little extra distance. I mean, I’d hate for someone who’d just read and loved, say, my vacation-fling novella for Cosmo to go and pick Badger up, thinking it’ll be another fun, dirty romp like that then wind up in therapy.
Ellie: Do you have any plans to write more books like Badger, closer to general fiction than romance?
Cara: I do. No immediate ones, though; I have contracts to fulfill first, and I need to keep making money. Romance pays, and it’s fun, and those aren’t facts I can easily ignore. While I suspect Badger might be the strongest and most genuine book I’ve written so far, I also suspect it won’t be one of my bigger commercial successes. But all that said, I do have an idea for a series I want to explore when I’m no longer under contract, something that I imagine would land somewhere between After Hours and Badger in terms of tone and genre. Women’s fiction, I think it would probably get classified as. Not quite a romance, and messy and homely, with raw, realistic sex and a deeply flawed female narrator…if not a Badger-level train wreck.
Ellie: Oh, that is some exciting news. I will definitely be on the look-out for this new series.
I have a final question, unrelated to Badger and concerning your future books. I have been reading a lot of LGBT books lately, have you thought about writing one yourself?
Cara: I already have! A few of my backlist titles are male/male, or ménages where the men have their way with each other. I love writing male/male. All three of my Sins in the City books for Penguin feature three-ways in which the men have contact, the second book in particular—Downtown Devil. That’s out next June. I’ve not written lesbian or trans romance yet, though I could imagine going there someday, if the right story grabbed me.
Ellie: Thank you for answering all my questions, Cara. It was a pleasure having you as a guest on my blog. Badger is one of the best books I have read this year and strongly urge people to read it because it tells an important story. It may not be the easiest of books to read but it is definitely worth it.
Cara: Thanks very much for having me! It was a pleasure.
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Author Bio and Links
Cara McKenna writes award-winning contemporary romance and smart erotica, sometimes under the name Meg Maguire, and has sold more than thirty-five novels and novellas to Penguin, Harlequin, Samhain, and Signet Eclipse. She's known for writing no-nonsense, working-class heroes with capable hands and lousy grammar. She is a 2015 RITA Award finalist, a 2014 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award winner, a 2013 and 2011 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award nominee, and a 2010 Golden Heart finalist. Cara writes full-time and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her own bearded hero.
Badger was released 31 August 2015 by Brain Mills Press.
C.M. McKenna’s compelling voice has earned a devoted audience and multiple awards for her erotic fiction (as Cara McKenna.) Her page-turning literary debut, Badger, disturbs and titillates with the story of a recovering pill addict whose compulsive fascination with a Boston antihero spirals out of control.
Nearly twelve months sober, Adrian Birch feels like a nobody. But when her wrist is broken in a hit-and-run accident, she’s avenged by the Badger, a secretive street vigilante. Instantly obsessed, Adrian takes to staging suicide and constructing chance meetings to get his attention. Their resulting affair is harsh and needy, wrought with McKenna’s signature dark eroticism—until the connection gets out of hand and ignites the violent passions of the city.
Hailed for her “evocative,” “intense,” “deftly drawn,” and “engrossing” stories by reviewers at Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and Jezebel, McKenna now establishes herself as a rising star in neo-noir. Badgerchallenges the reader to imagine how an impulsive young man is killed, offering only the perspective of the fascinating and unreliable Adrian Birch.
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