Bad Boys of Brooklyn: Q & A with Contemporary Romance Author Robin Kaye
By Madeline Iva
I’ve relished talking to Robin Kaye this week about her BAD BOYS OF RED HOOK series. I have a positive associations with Red Hook. During one visit to NYC, our friend took us out to a party on a barge–a barge museum, in fact. You could see right through the dark interior of the barge to the open side doors that led to the water beyond. Filling that view was the Statue of Liberty staring you right in the eye. I’ll never forget what a magical time we had that night.
MADELINE IVA: How do you perceive the changes going on in Red Hook and how do these changes matter in your book? When I was last there, it was miles away from a subway station and it was all garages and wide open streets. My friend said it was where the mafia dumped bodies, but I remember looking around at the garages and thinking “these would make great artists studios”. At some point that actually started happening.
ROBIN KAYE: Up until about ten or fifteen years ago, Red Hook was known as the crack capital of the world. It was a place you’d drive through, and even during the day, you didn’t dare stop at stop signs—it was that dangerous.
In 2005 I started writing my Domestic God’s series and set it in Park Slope (not far from Red Hook). In my explorations, I would skirt the edges of Red Hook—I love the docks and the view of the Statue of Liberty from Red Hook. If it was broad daylight, and I had my cousins or husband with me, I’d talk them into going out there. I began hearing talk about small changes being made in Red Hook, and seeing the transformation of the area whenever I visited. By about 2007, it was clear to me that the people of Red Hook were trying to make their home a safer place and decided I wanted my next series to take place there.
In 2008 Ikea and The Fairway Market opened in Red Hook and the movement really got some steam behind it. I pitched my series idea that year at the RWA National Conference. The last place each of my heroes wanted to return to was Red Hook, but ten years later, when they’re forced to return, they have to learn that Red Hook has changed as much, if not more, than they have.
MADELINE IVA: Your latest series is all about bad boys. How bad does a bad boy have to be to appeal to romance readers? (Or is any amount of badness okay as long as it’s in his past?)
ROBIN KAYE: I think it’s more a matter of once a bad boy, always a bad boy—just because they change their ways doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily lost the bad boy part of them. The thing I love about writing recovering bad boys is examining their struggle with their demons. They’ve made the typical bad boy mistakes and learned from them. No matter how bad they’ve been in the past, all my bad boys have a definite moral compass that they’ve had since day one.
MADELINE IVA: What’s the specific appeal of each brother in your series?
ROBIN KAYE: When I was coming up with characters, Storm was the first one that popped into my head. I have a great friend who is a marine architect and I find his occupation fascinating. Storm shot into my mind pretty much fully formed. I saw him as a kid who spent his early life watching the ships sail away from Red Hook—his version of hell—and wishing he could be on one of those ships. That’s why, when he was twelve years old, he stole his first boat.
The other two foster brothers didn’t come to me as easily. I researched the gangs in the area – the Latin Kings were very big in Red Hook. I thought that if Logan had been a member, he’d have joined the gang to protect himself. He was young, small for his age, and defenseless. For Logan, knowledge was power so I made him a chemistry prodigy—he specialized in making pipe bombs. He liked watching things blow up—from a distance. When Pete began fostering Logan, Pete told Logan that he could end up in school in a lab, or in prison doing hard time. The choice was his. Thankfully, Logan chose the lab.
Slater started his criminal adventure hacking. I knew his backstory and thought about what a kid with his past would do to escape and not have to deal with people, a computer geek fit the bill. Proving to my editor that a computer nerd could be sexy was the hard part.
MADELINE IVA: You grew up with Sicilians — did you learn anything unique about romance from this colorful ethnic heritage?
ROBIN KAYE: I didn’t realize until I was about ten years old that we were different from all my friends’ families. It wasn’t just the food that I found so different—it was the way in which they lived their lives. Italian’s—especially Sicilians—eat, live, fight, and love with great passion.
My first memory of my Italian grandparents was my grandmother chasing my grandfather around the dining room table, hitting him over the head with a broom, and yelling in Italian—“May the earth open up and swallow you whole” or my other favorite, “May you die in a pool of blood!” A half hour later, we were all happily sitting around that same table, saying grace, and eating our traditional seven to ten course Sunday meal. That’s just how things were done.
Whatever we Italians do, we do it with a lot of passion… and when the fever cools, it’s over, and we move on to the next thing—usually sharing a meal with great food, conversation, a few smacks upside the head, and a lot of laughter. I never saw anything like it outside my family.
MADELINE IVA: Is there anything you put into your books — a quality about your characters or a moment –that you were really scared about — but that ended up being a good move?
ROBIN KAYE: The biggest thing I can think of was Slater’s backstory. It was soooo dark. My editor had a real problem with it. By the time I sent her the synopsis, the story was already set in my mind, I’d done the research on early childhood trauma, spoken in depth to a few therapists who specialize in it, and was eager to challenge myself as a writer. I felt it was a story that needed to be told, and that Slater’s backstory was pivotal in his character arc. I really had to sell the idea to my editor, with a bit of compromise on my part, and a lot on her part, she approved it.
I was truly afraid of my reader’s reactions to his dark history, but was so gratified when I received a letter from a reader telling me that the same thing had happened to a close friend of hers, and that she cried for both Slater and her friend.
MADELINE IVA: How does a good romance writer learn about bad boys? Ever flirt with danger back in the day?
ROBIN KAYE: I grew up surrounded by bad boys—my father and his closest friends were, and still are, bad boys of the highest order. My parents separated by the time I was four and were divorced by the time I was six. When I spent time with my dad, I was usually with him and his bad boy friends. I spent summers in the Hamptons in a house he rented with seven of his closest friends and every other weekend with them in Manhattan (yes, they’d bring me to the bars). I was the unobtrusive kid who was always around. I had a front row seat to watch them interact with each other and their girlfriends. I was the cute toe-headed kid they’d talk into running by the hot blonde to splash sand on her. Then they’d go up to her, dust the sand off her oiled, bikini clad body and say, “Sorry, that was my kid, let me buy you a drink…” Talk about a learning experience. <grin>
And yes, I had first hand dating experience with bad boys too. I loved my bad boys, but figured out (with the help of really good therapist) that bad boys rarely develop into men who would make good life partners. I like to say I dated every bad boy, but married a Boy Scout. I’ve come to think that dating a bad boy is akin to riding the Cyclone—the roller coaster on Coney Island. It is great fun for a while, but I don’t want to live on it. I’ve been married to my nice, steady, very even-keeled Boy Scout for almost twenty-five years and have never regretted getting off the roller coaster.
MADELINE IVA: What IS the allure of Brooklyn that holds on to you even though you’ve lived in so many other places?
ROBIN KAYE: Brooklyn is constantly changing, but the people haven’t changed—they seem to have the same no-holds-barred way of living. I’ve moved more than thirty five times and I’ve lived in seven or eight states but Brooklyn is the one place on this earth I feel most at home and that feeling is one I cherish.
Writing about Brooklyn—the good, the bad, and the ugly—helps curb my homesickness. When that’s not enough, I throw my copy of Moonstruck in the DVD player. If you turn the wattage way down on my family, the family in the movie is the closest representation I’ve ever found to mine. LOL
Thanks Robin! Hey Readers, Robin is giving away two copies of her book (US & CANADA only). You could win if you leave a comment in the comments section. Find out more about Robin Kaye at her website HERE.
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