By M.Q. Barber (Guest Blogger)
We call them “characters,” as if the book were a stage and the author an actor in the wings, donning the new persona for the length of the scene and discarding it afterward.
But we know that’s not true. A book is a cultivated narrative. Bits and pieces chosen for their combined effect. The author tries to include the meaningful pieces and discard the rest.
Sometimes, stray bits creep in. Those little lines that allude to the lives characters lead when they aren’t onstage. They aren’t meaningless so much as they aren’t relevant to the current tale.
They’re side stories. Back stories. Road-not-taken stories.
And I’m addicted to them.
As a reader, I love glimpsing the edges of untold stories and imagining how they played out. Naturally, I hate it, too. Those offhand references to offstage events become challenging puzzles with no one true answer. They expand the world. They remind me that these “characters” have lives I’m not seeing.
Detective stories are lousy with references to other cases. Sherlock Holmes, anyone? And fantasy stories make references to historical events to firmly plant their imagined worlds in their own realities.
But enjoying the richness and depth as a reader never quite prepares one for the experience as an author. The writing’s going well, the words are flowing, the scene is almost—
“This is like that time my sister got hit by a line drive and fractured her collarbone.”
Wait, what? Where did that come from?
Sometimes I think the characters like to wrest control away from the author just to prove they can. They drop a surprise in the center of the writing headspace and watch the dominos fall.
The Neighborly Affection series focuses on the growing relationship between single, independent gal Alice and her neighbors Henry and Jay. In the first book, Playing the Game, Henry offers her a chance for sexual adventure – an intro course in dominance and submission, more or less.
Because the story is from Alice’s point of view, it could have had long stretches without interaction between the main characters. Her “classtime” is only every other Friday. Following every minute of her life would’ve meant chapter after chapter of Alice at her day job. And while mechanical engineering is an interesting discipline, watching Alice work through computer-aided modeling, testing metal thickness and angles and curves, doesn’t add meaning to the romance going on in her personal life.
Deciding not to include that part of her life in the book, or to show it only in glimpses, was easy.
But then Alice went and made an offhand remark about Jay, and I had a tough decision to make. I don’t doubt that she’s correct when she says she and Jay have lunch every Tuesday. The character is always right, even when the author doesn’t know why yet. The problem was whether to make those lunches part of the main stage production.
Ultimately, they ended up becoming one of those things mentioned but never shown. Not because they aren’t meaningful, but because they aren’t Alice’s story to tell. The changes in her, the strides she is making in her romantic life, are all shown through her nights with Henry and Jay.
The lunches? Those belong to Jay. They’re a central piece of his story, not hers. Eventually, he started opening up and sharing what they meant to him. They don’t graduate to the main stage until the third book, Healing the Wounds, when Alice needs to ask Jay a question away from Henry’s dominating presence.
Until then, those secrets are Jay’s to keep. He’s told me a few – including one I’m sharing with newsletter subscribers this month -- and held some others close to the vest, but that’s all right. The characters don’t have to share everything with me. I’m only the author, after all. The life is theirs.
Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2) by M.Q. Barber
A safeword won’t save her from love.
After six months of cavorting in her neighbors’ bed, Alice admits signing the contract to be Henry’s sexual submissive is the best decision she’s ever made. He delivers on his promise to give her sexual satisfaction. But submitting to his dominance alongside his long-term lover shows her the sharp line between sex and love. Henry loves goofy, eager-to-please Jay. Neither man has promised to love her.
Hiding her feelings grows harder every night she spends with them. As they struggle with wounds old and new, her emotional turmoil threatens to shred their arrangement. Is it time to bow out before they show her the door? Or can a triangle be the shape of true love?
Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2) excerpt
Silver metal attachment points dangled from brown leather straps dark as a liver chestnut and loose-wrapped in deep green silk. Green like the cloth peeking out of Henry’s pocket. Green like Jay’s ring. She bounced on the balls of her feet, giddy with relief. These cuffs were hers. She belonged.
“Do you remember your safeword, Alice?”
“Yes, Henry.” Yes, yes, I know it, please put those on me.
“Tell it to me now, please.”
“Pistachio.” I won’t need it.
She struggled to restrain her impatience under his thoughtful gaze.
“Hold out your arms for—”
Thrusting her arms forward, she offered her hands side by side and loosely fisted.
Henry raised his hand until his palm brushed her fingers where they curled under her hands. He bent at the waist and bestowed two gentle kisses, one to the back of each hand. He revealed a slight smile as he straightened. “Your eagerness pleases me. Perhaps it’s been too long for us.”
Always. Two weeks of waiting and wanting, and such a short time when fulfilling her sexual desires became a joyful hobby for him. He’d taken a year to make the decision, to agree to invite her into his relationship with Jay. How hard had Jay pushed to make that happen? Gratitude flooded her, both for Jay’s interest and Henry’s willingness to play along.
Henry slipped the cuffs on her and tightened the straps. The silk slid over her skin. Two inches of chain separated her wrists. Henry lifted them over her head, extending her arms until the stretch hurt before lowering them a smidge. “Is this position comfortable, Alice? Be truthful, or our time together will end early tonight.”
Jesus. Was he trying to scare her? His voice held a sharp edge of command. A safety reason, muscle strain, probably, had to be the cause, but to threaten to end the night early… “It pulls a little on my shoulders, but it doesn’t hurt.”
He lowered her wrists another fraction of an inch. “Better?”
“Good. Be still for me.”
She complied while he made adjustments above her. Metal spun, whirring like screw locks on carabiners.
Henry backed away to the edge of the light. “Relax your shoulders, Alice.”
She lowered her shoulders as best she could and shivered at the secure grip of the cuffs around her wrists.
“Rotate your hands for me. Wiggle your fingers.”
She obeyed without question. His safety concerns were for her benefit, and she wouldn’t interfere no matter how desperate she grew to feel his touch. Having the length of his body grazing hers as he’d held her arms above her head hadn’t helped. Holding still had been difficult when she’d wanted to rub herself against him like a cat.
He circled her, always at the edge of the light, prowling. Jay stood somewhere in the darkness, his role in this game as shrouded as his body.
“You’re a very good girl, Alice.” Henry spoke in conversational, relaxed tones. He stepped in front of her, a foot away, and unbuttoned his jacket. “I want you to understand that now, before we begin. You haven’t displeased me in any way. Do you understand?”
He held his coat out behind him, and Jay stepped from the darkness to take it.
“Yes, Henry. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Henry unbuttoned his shirt cuffs and rolled his sleeves to the elbow.
“Correct.” He leaned in and kissed her, hard, one hand on her chin holding her in place as he nipped at her lips. “This is not a punishment but a pleasure.”
Leave me a comment that includes your email address, and you could win an e-copy of each of the first two books in the series, Playing the Game and Crossing the Lines. In fact, I'll pick two winners!
About M.Q. Barber and the Neighborly Affection series
Henry, Alice, and Jay’s romance began in Playing the Game (Neighborly Affection #1) and continued in Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2). The trio will be back June 2 in Healing the Wounds (Neighborly Affection #3).
The series is available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/M.Q.-Barber/e/B00DKBBSMU), Kobo (http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/Search?query=Neighborly%20Affection&fcsearchfield=Series) and other ebook retailers.
M.Q. Barber likes to get lost in thought. She writes things down so she can find herself again.
Often found staring off into space or frantically scratching words on sticky notes, M.Q. lives with one very tolerant, easily amused husband and one very tolerant, easily amused puppy.
She has a soft spot for romances that explore the inner workings of the heart and mind alongside all that steamy physical exertion. She loves memorable characters, witty banter, and heartfelt emotion in any genre.
The former Midwestern gal is the author of the Neighborly Affection contemporary romance series. Pick a safeword, grab a partner or two, and jump in.
Keep up with the series via M.Q. Barber’s website (http://www.mqbarber.com), Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/mqbarber), Goodreads profile (http://www.goodreads.com/mqbarber) or Twitter feed (http://www.twitter.com/mqbarber).