Stuff that Stocking With Wild Holiday Nights: Q&A Cara McKenna
by Madeline Iva
Today we’re dishing on bikers, booty, and being bad to the bone with Cara McKenna. Cara’s other romance persona, Meg Maguire, has a cute ole anthology out called WILD HOLIDAY NIGHTS. Meanwhile, I’ve gotten sucked into the world of her Desert Dog Series starting with LAY IT DOWN.
Lucky ducks–I’m giving away one print copy of each book—LAY IT DOWN and WILD HOLIDAY NIGHTS to a few happy elves who leave a comment for Cara below.
Cara McKenna writes contemporary romance with the explicit feisty sex we’ve come to associate with erotic romance—but her intricate plot does not depend on the sexual relationship. Because I love sex AND a lotta plot together, to me Cara’s the whole package. Let’s jump to the nitty-gritty.
MADELINE IVA: Cara, is a bad boy really bad, or is he just misunderstood?
CARA McKENNA: These days, the biker subgenre is really pushing the envelope when it comes to how bad a bad boy can be, and other authors push it further than I do—my bikers are less Sons of Anarchy and more blue-collar roughnecks. As a general rule, I think most readers expect even the roughest heroes to be redeemable. I think some readers can handle a man who’s committed murder, but since we’re talking romance, he better treat his woman right, at the very least. I know there are some heroes out there who are seriously dangerous—there’s a line between “alpha” and “stalker” for example, and you can find guys who blur it in the darker corners of romance.
MADELINE IVA: Wait wait wait! – how much do you make your readers wait for some action in your books? Is it a better to start the sexual dial low and move it up gradually? Or vice versa?
CARA McKENNA: I’ve gone both ways. On the one hand, you want the chemistry to be off-the-charts right away, to show the reader, wow, there’s something special about these two together. But you don’t want to burn all the fuel up in the first couple sex scenes, and wind up with the later ones feeling repetitive or boring—or just bonkers, cranked up to fifteen. There’s a sort of cynical joke among some erotica authors that lazy writers follow the oral-vaginal-anal recipe, just poking the cock into increasingly racy holes with each subsequent scene then tossing in some BDSM for the finale, but I clearly don’t go in for that method. My sex scenes typically start out super-sexy and intense but not over-the-top—I’ll kick things off with some explicit, hot-as-hell second-base action.
MADELINE IVA: A totally signature Cara McKenna move. That scene was smokin’!
CARA McKENNA: I save the more intense or kinky encounters for mid-book. In my books, the kink or intensity tends to pique around the two-thirds mark, I’d say. Later sex scenes typically go down when it’s the emotions that are getting more dynamic, so while the initial encounters are all about the physical intensity, by the later ones there’s less mention of body parts and friction, and more emphasis on what everyone is feeling. By the end, that’s usually where the stakes are highest.
MADELINE IVA: Gah! I need to go take a shower thinking back on the smoking second base scene. Your heroine in LAY IT DOWN finds out her bad boy has been in jail – more than once. How bad can the bad boys be in a romance?
CARA McKENNA: I’ve written a few heroes who’ve done time, and Vince in Lay It Down is certainly not the worst of them. He’s been put away for illegal bookmaking and recreational bar fights, crimes which compared to Eric’s from Hard Time are child’s play. But Vince is a man with fairly minimal baggage, for a bad boy. I couldn’t give him a fraught, super-dark past and crazy-heavy demons and soul-scarring regret, because the most alluring thing about him is his shamelessness. He’ll never pass up a fight, and he might find occasion to boost a car (to provide for his mom, most likely) but he’d never kill anyone, I don’t think, not unless they hurt his family or friends in some unforgivable way. His brother Casey, on the other hand, has committed some crimes that, in my opinion, are far tougher to parse and forgive, though I can’t say what those things are at this point in the series.
MADELINE IVA: One thing I am frustrated with is when an author creates a real bad boy and then over the course of the book takes it all back until he’s no longer bad at all. (!!!) Do you think that if an author spells out a bad boy character, she ought to stick to it?
CARA McKENNA: It’s hard to say… I think it depends on reader expectations. When I wrote Hard Time, a book whose entire premise is “convicted felon hero,” I was determined to not take what seemed like the easy way out, and let Eric have been wrongfully convicted, or convicted of something that most people could easily forgive. He’s doing time for a serious, ugly, violent crime, one he tells the heroine he’d commit again, if he had to do it over. But I think many readers—maybe even most—could see why he did what he did, and give him a chance, as the heroine eventually does (after much, much soul-searching.) But others would say that that kind of impulsive violence is never forgivable, and I can respect that, too.
On the other hand, with most of the biker stories out there being of the Sons of Anarchy variety, I’m sure reader expectations could have a few folks throwing the Desert Dogs books across the room, because they really aren’t a motorcycle club or a gang—they’re a group of friends who favor bikes for getting around the badlands, and some are shady, and some are less so, but they don’t run a criminal syndicate and there’s no iron-clad patriarchy ruling over it all. I enjoyed the three or four seasons of Sons of Anarchy that I watched, but I wanted to write my own sort of biker stories.
MADELINE IVA: Do you think that part of the appeal of bad boy biker characters is that we want to see them redeemed or tamed?
CARA McKENNA: I can only speak for myself, and when I pick up a book whose back cover copy promises a really edgy, bad-boy hero, it’s usually because a) I want to see how the author pulls it off, and how far she pushes the label of “bad boy,” and b) I want to see how the heroine handles him. Personally, I don’t need to see the guy tamed, but I wouldn’t necessarily be disappointed or angry if he was, I don’t think (I mean, look at Zsadist, for God’s sake—redemption can be hot as fuck and enrich one hero, as much as it might diminish another) unless it seemed like his edge got ground off or his personality goes flat. The heroine can soften him in all the right places, but love shouldn’t make anyone boring.
MADELINE IVA: Very true! It’s such a pleasure to have you here with us today, Cara!
CARA McKENNA: Thanks so much for having me! I’m wishing all your readers a happy, healthy holiday season, full of cold nights and hot books.
Folks, you can find Cara at her delicious website HERE or on Twitter @. Go HERE to get your own copy of LAY IT DOWN if you haven’t already and HERE for WILD HOLIDAY NIGHTS. And don’t forget to comment below and win something for your Xmas stocking.
Meanwhile, follow our scrumptious blog so sugar-plum dreams of bad boys can dance about in *your* head.