Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Get Book One of the Tracefinder series free – see the end of this post for details.
Today, my dear friend Kaje Harper, with whom Mark and I had the honor of hanging out for dinner at last year’s GRL –
I get asked about my name a lot. It’s not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’ve been writing far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty-five years*), although mostly for my own entertainment. I write M/M romance, often with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi, paranormal… I also have Young Adult short stories (some released under the pen name Kira Harp.)
After decades of writing just for fun, my husband convinced me I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year and Rainbow Award Best Mystery-Thriller Tracefinder: Contact. A complete list with links can be found on my website “Books” page at https://kajeharper.com/books/.
I’m always pleased to have readers find me online at:
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4769304.Kaje_Harper
Thanks so much, Kaje, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Kaje Harper: The thing I strive for, in all my stories, is a sense of realism. I want my characters to be people you feel you could meet in a café down the street, even if they’re werewolves or sorcerers. I want their problems to be real issues that take work to solve. I love an “us against the world” feeling for my main characters, whether they’re facing paparazzi, murderers, vicious werewolves, injuries, unpleasant relatives, or ghosts.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
KH: Almost never. The one exception was in my book Sole Support, where the mother with Alzheimer’s is in many ways modeled on my own mother, although with some fundamental differences. When I wrote that book, I was working through the impact of my mom’s decline, and the fact that she, who taught me to love books, would never even understand that I’d become a published author.
Kellen’s fears and losses, as he tries to care for his mom, came from my own. I think the biggest pitfall was that the closeness to my own issues made me get lost in all the details of that time and how it affects both child and parent. I’m grateful to editor Jerry Wheeler, who helped me trim the story down a bit, and refocus on a balance between the romance and Kellen’s mom’s situation.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
KH: In one of my free Rainbow Briefs YA collections (under my Kira Harp pen name) I have a story about a young transgender teen who comes out. I had a 30-year-old reader tell me that reading my story of Sam was the moment that tipped them over into understanding that they too were transgender. All the things that hadn’t made sense in their life and identity for so long crystallized for them, and that after they were done crying, they buckled down to figure out what transitioning would involve for them. They thanked me for empowering them to change their life. That was amazing.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Tracefinder: Choices?
KH: This book is the third in my Tracefinder paranormal mystery series. Brian’s paranormal ability is to hold an object that belongs to someone, and to follow an invisible trace across the city, or the country, to wherever the owner of that object currently is – he’s a Finder.
When the first book was rattling around in my head, I was thinking about all the paranormal abilities in books, and how in the real world, a person with those talents would be vulnerable in multiple ways. A healer, for example— dictators and criminals would want to own them, to keep them close by exclusively for their own families and supporters. And ordinary people would clamor for their help in the thousands, or millions, if their talents were known. How guilty would the healer feel, for everyone who died that they could’ve saved?
Instead of a healer, I gave Brian a talent that’s also useful, but a bit less intensely in demand. And then I played with the way criminals, and the police, and desperate people, and Brian’s own conscience and desire to help, might impact his life.
And I gave him Nick— who begins the first book as a cop with a conscience — to be the person looking on and at first trying to use him, and then gradually trying to protect him. Then I worked, in this third book, to wrap up all the trauma and risk in a satisfying but realistic way for them.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
KH: This cover was designed by Karrie Jax. Covers for this series have been a bit of a process (each with a different artist, for reasons. The first one was designed by my son, so he was fine with the others matching his design.) For the first one— Tracefinder: Contact— I saw a picture of this hot dark-haired guy on photographer Paul Henry Serres’ website and said “OMG, that’s Nick!” I bought the picture (even though I have never paid for an exclusive like that) because he was so exactly what Nick looked like in my head.
Brian— who’s on book 2, Tracefinder: Changes— was hard to fit. He’s a big guy, very blond, a bit soft and overweight, not muscular, but still cute and very sweet. I almost despaired of finding a picture of someone like that, but Sid Love (who did that cover) located him for me on a stock site, and I adored that photo.
And then book 3, Tracefinder: Choices… logically should have both guys. Sid found some more pics of my Brian, but he was always wearing a hard-hat, or a suit. I almost gave up and put their dog Luger on the cover. I tossed it all at Karrie, and she put together a cover that has both my guys, looking the way I imagine them. I adore this cover.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
KH: Brian’s brother Damon is one of those characters who won’t go away. Damon is tough, pretty amoral, and willing to do almost anything to protect Brian and their sister, Lori. Nick hates him, because in the name of making money to keep them safe, Damon was the one who dragged Brian into a whole lot of criminal exploitation and risks.
But under the cool, hard, dangerous exterior of Damon, is a guy who practically raised his siblings, and who has protected them fiercely with everything he has and is. He’s made bad choices, and done bad things, but his prime directive has always been family. At the end of this book, with Brian getting his HEA with Nick, Damon will be at loose ends. And I can’t help wondering what comes next for him…
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
KH: I adore Brian. When the series begins, he’s working for a drug lord. He’s been protecting himself since he was little, by pretending his dyslexia and tendency to hide are real mental limitations, and that he can’t understand the things his brother and boss have him doing. But he yearns to be free, in many ways. Gradually, as he spends time with Nick, and gets to know him, he sees the possibility of escape.
Over the three books, Brian grows into the man he was always meant to be. He finds his own strengths, and ways to work around his limitations. He works his butt off to become an equal partner to Nick, and I think in the end, he’s almost more adult and competent than Nick in heart and mind. And through it all, there’s a core of sweetness in Brian that he never loses.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
Brian: “She’s not that bad. I learned a lot going through the books, and hey, she gave me Nick. I mean, look at that guy. Do you think I’d have ever found someone like him without my author’s help?
Nick: “Don’t be like that, Brian. You were fine. You’d have figured something out. She just maybe sped up the process. As for me, no one tells me what to do, y’know? Not even my boss on the police force, which, okay, that was a problem. But if I can stand up to Lieutenant Olson, a mere author ain’t got a shot. I took this story exactly where I fucking wanted it to go.
Brian: “You did?”
Nick. “Hell, yeah. You. Me. Together.”
Brian: “Seems to me I had a bit to do with it.”
Nick: “Of course you did. That’s what I meant. We didn’t need any damned author to get us here. Your talent, your guts, my brilliant planning, and did I mention your guts—”
Brian: “Aw, you love me.”
Nick: “Shhh. Wait till we get home. I’ll be as sappy as you like then. When the author isn’t watching. Wouldn’t want to give her ideas.”
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
KH: KJ Charles’s Lucien Vaudrey from The Magpie Lord— he’s witty, acerbic, with a lot of stories to tell that have been hinted at and dammit, I want to hear the details. And as he talks, I imagine I might get a muttered foulmouthed counterpoint from his manservant Merrick, who would no doubt be lurking around usefully. Lucien likes to be the most notable voice in a room, with that natural arrogance that he denies but everyone else recognizes, so I probably could sit back quietly and listen, and enjoy his company.
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
KH: Both? But if I must choose, I’ll choose Star Trek. I’m an optimist. I write romance even in my spec fic because it’s full of hope, the belief that everyone can find someone to love and a happy ending that fits their particular quirks and needs.
Star Trek is, at its heart, hopeful. It says mankind can get through wars and disasters, and out of that, build a society whose fundamental principles are positive. That we will value diversity, and science, and community, and protect the vulnerable. That’s my kind of future.
And now for Kaje’s new book, releasing July 30th (book hree in the Tracefinder series): “Tracefinder: Choices”:
An ex-cop and a psychic on the mend find their safe haven threatened by vandalism, arson, and the shadow of their dangerous past.
After overusing his Talent till he almost died, Brian wants nothing more than a quiet job on the farm, with Nick to come home to. He’s trying to start a new life, despite bad dreams he can’t shake, vandalism close to home, and his sister’s problematic baby on the way.
Nick gave up the police force and moved to North Carolina to be with Brian, and he doesn’t regret it. But he’s at loose ends, with no real work, the lurking specter of Brian’s brother Damon hanging around, and a worry in the pit of his stomach that Damon’s old enemies might still be after Brian. Nick’s keeping his eyes open and his gun loaded.
Brian spotted a flicker of light and grabbed his phone off the stacked milk crates by the bed. The message symbol was blinking with a text from Nick. ~Done now. Even Brian could manage to read those simple words. He hesitated. Nick would need his rest for the long drive tomorrow, but Brian needed to hear his voice. He hit the phone symbol.
Nick answered, sounding drowsy. “Hey, I thought maybe you’d gone to bed.”
“Not yet.” He pressed the phone against his cheek and his whole body relaxed. “How did it go? Are you packed?”
“Almost. We’ll load the bed into the truck in the morning. The stuff I’m not bringing is on the curb for free.”
Brian squeezed his eyes shut. It was almost like having Nick there. “I miss you.”
“Yeah. Only two more days. How are things going? Fallen in any manure piles yet?”
He considered telling Nick about the tractor, but it would just worry him, and he didn’t want Nick driving too fast for his sake. “We’re okay. A bit of this and that. No worries till you get here.”
Maybe his voice wasn’t as ordinary as he thought, because Nick said, “You sure?”
“Positive. Except for the part where I’ve been sleeping alone for two weeks.”
“Tell me about it.” Nick’s voice dropped and got huskier. “In fact, do tell me all about it.”
“Don’t you need to get some rest?” He signaled for Luger to jump off, though, and pushed down the waistband of his sweatpants.
Nick murmured, “I’ll sleep better with a good bedtime story. Tell me what you do all alone in that bed.”
“Mostly I sleep.” He grinned at Nick’s huff of breath. “Sometimes I think about this guy.”
“Some particular guy?”
“Maybe. He has dark hair and these hazel eyes that change color, and he works out a lot.”
“You like his muscles.”
“Yeah, I do.” Brian rubbed himself through his boxers and closed his eyes again to hear Nick better.
“And his dick.”
“Hah. Yeah. It’s pretty.”
“It’s huge and rugged and awesome.”
“It’s kind of ordinary size and pretty.”
“Wait. Do I know this guy?”
Brian fought a giggle. “I imagine I’m asleep after working all day, and you come in and strip off. And… do stuff.” He slipped his hand inside his shorts. Phone sex was still not one of his strong suits, but he was becoming a fan.
“Do stuff. That sounds… boring. I’m not boring in bed.”
“Nope.” He was running out of words. Nick was better at this. “What would you do?”
“Mm. Let me think. Are you face up or face down?”
He gripped himself harder. “Face up. Sleeping.”
“You won’t be sleeping for long once I crawl on top of you.”
“Tell me?” He didn’t want to talk, especially knowing Zander’s room was on the other side of the wall, but there was nothing better than lying here, stroking himself, listening to Nick say heated things in that low voice. Well, having Nick stroking him would be better, but for now, this was the best thing in his life. “What’ll you do to me, Nick?”
Nick’s chuckle was wicked. “Everything…”