My guest today is Bonnie Dee, one of Carina Press’s launch authors. Bonnie’s story really caught my attention because, not only is it a historical and inspired by the story of Tarzan, but it’s set in Congo Free State. Several years ago now, my husband and I did an overland trip through Africa and we spent some time in Zaire, as it was known then. We also visited the gorillas in Rwanda so Bonnie had me from the start. I’ve purchased her book but edits keep getting in the way! Anyhow, over to Bonnie…
Congo Free State, 1888
On a mission deep in the jungle, Oxford anthropologist James Litchfield comes face-to-face with a local legend: a wild man who wanders with mountain gorillas and lives as one of their own.
The chance encounter with the savage, whom James calls Michael, leads to a game of observation and exploration. Their mutual curiosity turns to an attraction; one that Michael has never experienced and James is desperate to deny.
When members of the expedition unearth James’s secret discovery, a living specimen of man at his most primitive, Michael becomes a pawn in their quest for fame.
As their relationship deepens, James is compelled to protect Michael from the academics who would treat him as nothing more than a scientific acquisition and London society, which threatens to destroy their passionate bond.
1. Did you always want to be a writer or did the need to write creep up on you?
When I was a child I wanted to be a writer, I still have a story about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat on a yellow legal tablet which I wrote in second grade. I read all the time and just knew I’d be a writer some day. But by the time I’d finished college the dream had dimmed and reality set in. I had to have a money-earning job and I soon had a family that required lots of time and attention. It wasn’t until 2000 that I began writing again. I dabbled in fanfiction for a while, a really great place to practice and grow as a writer. After a couple of years of playing in the sandbox, I decided I was ready to try to give my own characters voices and stories. I co-wrote my first book with a friend because I didn’t feel confident enough to tackle an entire novel alone. After discovering the world of e-publishing, I never stopped writing and now have over twenty published novellas and novels. So becoming a published author was a slow process that took many years. I wouldn’t have been ready until recently to have the strength and determination to take rejection and keep soldiering on.
2. Jungle Heat, your latest release was inspired by the Legend of Tarzan. Tell us a little about your story and how you came up with the idea.
My inspiration for Jungle Heat was not so much Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original story as the 80’s movie Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan. Let me start off by saying my hero is NOT named Tarzan. The name’s got too much cheese-factor for me. And because this is a male/male romance, my hero’s not Jane but James. I got a kick out of keeping the name as similar as possible.
Why a gay romance you ask? Because it provides a unique and refreshing way of telling the story. There’s an intriguing symmetry in the two men’s experience. Both feel like outsiders in the society in which they live. Both are lonely men who yearn for something just beyond reach, a missing part of themselves. The discovery and acceptance of that missing part makes for a great romance.
3. Jungle Heat is set in Congo Free State in the year 1888 – it’s not a common setting. How did you go about researching for your story?
Internet search. Most of the info came from Wikipedia, a writer’s best friend. Also checked out some books at the library including Stanley’s travelogue about his experiences. Travel times were a bit problematic. Any expedition took many, many months. At one point, I wanted to get my protagonists from Africa back to England fast so I could resume the story there. Then I realized I could make use of that travel time. During the steam ship voyage was a great time for my hero and hero to get closer, and for Michael to improve his understanding of English and the new culture he was about to enter.
I read about gorillas, their diet and habits. One evening I was channel surfing and came across Gorillas in the Mist, which I hadn’t seen in years. I watched that and found it very useful too.
4. Writer’s Block – fact or fallacy? Do you ever suffer from writing blockages?
There’s always a block. With every book I reach a point where I can’t see the movie in my head anymore. It’s like someone turned off the projector and I’m feeling along in the dark. I used to panic about this, afraid I’d have to abandon a manuscript three quarters of the way through. But now I understand that for some reason it’s part of my process: I hit a wall, I think I’ve painted myself into a corner, I can’t see any way to weave all the loose threads. Sometimes I put the story aside completely and come back to it weeks or months later, edit from the beginning and when I reach the stuck point again, I can navigate through it. Other times, I simply go to bed and wake up in the morning with fresh insight. The hour just before I get up, when I’m dozing and allowing my subconscious to drift is when most of the bugs get worked out. And sometimes, when all else fails, I just start writing and then a character says something or asks something and it triggers what needs to happen next.
5. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wanting to write historical romance?
Don’t fret about being caught in a mistake. It’s hard to get every detail perfectly correct no matter how much research you do or how careful you try to be. And there are those who will be actively searching for mistakes in your story. If you can find a critique partner who knows her shit about the time period your story’s set in, you’ve struck gold.
Congo Free State, 1888
Odd One watched, as still as the tree trunk by which he stood, not moving more than his eyes as Old Grunt had taught him. His pale, furless skin caked with river mud was nearly the same gray-brown as the tree. His light hair was also matted with mud and his face smeared so only the whites of his strange blue eyes might give his position away. He could never hide in plain sight like the Others, but he did the best he could.
Something was moving loudly through the underbrush—a foolish animal without enough sense to slip quietly between the leaves or to step lightly on the ground. The footsteps were different from any creature he’d ever heard, a heavy tread. It sounded as if there were more than one. He judged that the approaching animals had the weight of a leopard but not the stealthily padded paws.
Excitement tingled through him, making the hair rise on his nape. He clenched the sharpened stick in his fist, pressed his back against the rough bark and waited for whatever was coming.
One of the creatures made a sound as it came closer. Not a screech or cry, not a groan, hoot or whimper, but a noise unlike anything he’d heard before yet strangely familiar. A dim memory struggled to float up in his mind. He reached for it, and it was gone.
His heart pounded and he breathed faster as he glimpsed one of the creatures between the leaves. It walked upright on two legs just as he did and like the Others did some of the time. He wanted to leap forward, to see all of it at once instead of flashes through the undergrowth.
There were two of them, one walking behind the other. The pair communicated back and forth with their strange calls. He caught his breath. These were like the sounds he sometimes made when he was all alone in the forest, the noises his throat and tongue made that none of the Others could duplicate.
The pair moved into the clearing in front of him where they stopped and stood looking around. His heart raced even faster. The two creatures looked like him, or what he’d seen of himself reflected in still water. Their faces and hands were naked like his with the same prominent noses and fully formed lips. Hair grew on the lower part of their faces. Their bodies were covered with something that was neither fur, skin nor scales but something completely foreign.
One of them took a thing off the top of his head and ran a hand through sweat-flattened hair—hair like his, not fur as most animals had—and white like the streaks in Old Grunt’s ruff. These animals were his kind. There were more in the world like him. He wasn’t alone.
He turned his attention to the other one, studying the face closely. The creature’s brows drew together in a frown as he communicated with his partner, using hand motions to emphasize the sounds coming from his mouth. His hair was brown. He was younger than his companion. Odd One couldn’t take his gaze from the creature’s eyes, the way they blinked and moved and squinted when his mouth widened to show his teeth. Baring teeth meant aggression to the Others, but the stranger didn’t appear angry. He seemed pleased. His eyes crinkled at the corners and lines grooved his cheeks. A quiet chuckling sound rumbled from his chest and came out his mouth.
A warm feeling rushed through Odd One. He found himself mimicking the stranger’s expression, his lips lifting at the corners, his teeth showing. What would the strange animals do if he came toward them now? He would drop his sharp stick on the ground and come with his head lowered, his eyes down-turned to show his intention wasn’t to harm. Would they make their noises at him and welcome him as one of them? But he wasn’t of their clan so maybe they would drive him away. Better he stay still until they’d moved on, then follow and learn more about the invaders in his world.
He waited and watched. After the two bent down to look at something on the ground, they rose and headed back in the direction from which they’d come. Odd One followed, slipping silently over the forest floor without rustling a single branch.
You can visit Bonnie at her website.