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.
Selina is giving away one eBook copy of In Wild Lemon Groves with this post – comment below for a chance to win.
Today, Selina Kray – Selina Kray is the nom de plume of an author and English editor. Professionally she has covered all the artsy-fartsy bases, having worked in a bookstore, at a cinema, in children’s television, and in television distribution, up to her latest incarnation as a subtitle editor and grammar nerd (though she may have always been a grammar nerd).
Thanks so much, Selina, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Selina Kray: Well, I’m a bit undercover for this particular book, because normally I write LGBTQ historical romance with paranormal elements, i.e. my Stoker & Bash Victorian mystery series. I’ve always loved playing detective, fantastical worlds, the exotic and the macabre, and of course uncovering the little hidden gems of history. But, after taking a very memorable vacation for one of those big “0” birthdays to Amalfi, Italy, I thought I would try my hand at writing contemporary. My lead character, Sebastien Osaki, started talking to me while I was there, and by the end of the trip I had the bare bones of his story.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
SK: The short answer is Amalfi, Amalfi, Amalfi. Twenty-five years ago, I was lucky enough to take a school trip across Italy, and I’ve never really forgotten going to the Amalfi Coast. I think it’s just the most beautiful place in the world. When I returned a few years ago, I stayed in the town of Amalfi and hopped around to each of the little neighboring towns each day, and so those experiences really inspired the book. Seb’s trip is a very thinly veiled version of mine, and his reactions and impressions are very close to what I lived. The difference is that he gets to meet a hunky, soccer-playing chauffeur.
The biggest challenge was writing contemporary. I had never written what I call a plot-light book before, where the events are drawn from the characters lives and circumstances and not, for example, the fact that they are hunting down man-eating lions or trying to solve a murder. So I struggled a lot with just what was going to happen in the book. It was great in the end because I got to stretch a different writing muscle.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
SK: In Wild Lemon Groves is kind of the gay version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Seb is a widower, having lost his husband Henry three years previous. Henry was a travel writer, and so on what would have been their tenth anniversary, Seb uses Henry’s notes and goes on a vacation to Henry’s favorite part of the world to finally take the last step in getting over his grief. That may make it sound a bit bleak, but the book is much more getting Seb’s groove back than him angsting over the past. On his first day there, he’s picked up at the airport by “Bernini statue in soccer shorts” Andrea, his chauffeur, who is friendly, open-hearted, and kind… but has a secret.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
SK: One of my mottos when it comes to characters and their origins is write the world as it is, i.e. multicultural. My romances are almost always interracial (only my first book isn’t). Canada is such a melting pot, and it’s so important to me to portray the full spectrum of cultural heritages represented by the Canadian people. Sebastien is half-Japanese, half-French-Canadian and his love interest Andrea is Italian. I had three fabulous sensitivity readers, two from Japanese-Canadian backgrounds and one Italian, who helped me refine their stories and made sure all my Italian dialogue was up to snuff.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
SK: My fabulous cover designer is the wizard-like Lady Tiferet. It is *such* a privilege to work with her. I wish I had more books so that we could collaborate on covers year-round. This cover was particularly challenging because there are just not enough stock photos of people of color around, especially Asian men. In terms of the other elements, I had a strong idea of what I wanted: sun, sea, and a photo of Amalfi. But it took a lot of searching to find a Japanese model with a man-bun for the cover (the man-bun being part of Seb’s description in the book). Tif is such a superhero. Once we found a couple of photo options, she made me five different covers. They were all incredible, but as soon as I saw the silhouette one, I fell in love.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
SK: I’m going to cheat a bit with this one, since there are three, but they come as a group. In Amalfi, Seb meets up with three ladies travelling together who kind of adopt him. At the start of the book, Seb is very lonely, and the ladies, being older, recognize that, mother him a bit, and spice up his vacation. Maya, Kath, and Ceri are based on three amazing women I met and made friends with on my own vacation to Amafi. They were super fun to write because I didn’t want to hew too close to the real thing, but still portray what made the ladies I knew so fun to be with. And they gave me a chance to throw in some pop culture references, something I don’t really get to do writing historical romance.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
SK: My wee Pembroke Welsh corgi girl Miss Starbuck Eowyn Bean is the resident foot-warmer and in-house critic around these parts.
JSC: Do you have any strange writing habits or superstitions?
SK: I always play a round of online mah-jongg before I start writing, to flex my brain muscle a bit. I don’t know how I got in the habit, but it keeps me humble, since I only win maybe 10% of the time. It’s a really hard game.
JSC: If I were a Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads? Why? And can we have pictures to drool over?
SK: This is my favorite thing ever, casting things, so, yes, let’s go! There are no famous Japanese/French-Canadian actors out there, so we have to compromise a bit. But I would love for Manny Jacinto from The Good Place to play Seb. He has the perfect energy. But my real visual inspiration for Seb was not an actor, but a director, Cary Fukunaga. He is the Seb of my dreams. For Andrea, there are lots of Italian actors to choose from, but my favorites are Alex Belli and Luca Calvani.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
SK: I love these kinds of questions! I would definitely not mind spending the night or having a torrid affair with my character Hieronymus Bash from my Stoker & Bash detective series. I think Andrea Sorrentino from this book is a very sweet, very loving guy, so he’s the one I’d get hitched to (and he’s bisexual, so I actually have a chance with him). Lucky for me, I’ve written a few villains into the Stoker & Bash books, so I don’t have to kill any darlings. 😉 I’d have to go with Lord Blackwood from The Fangs of Scavo. He was fun to write, but he’s pretty irredeemable as a person. He does not die in that book, but he probably deserved to.
Thanks so much, Scott, for the interview and for the feature. This has been super fun!
And now for Selina’s new book: In Wild Lemon Groves:
A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear.
Sebastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views, but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.
Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.
Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will long walks through lemon groves and wine-soaked Amalfi nights work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?
Scent of sea and palm,
Craggy and ancient, a world
Bathed in saffron
– #17,In Blue Solitudes, S. Wilson-Osaki
“A. S’okay.” Bleary eyed and bone weary, Sébastien stared at the sign for two minutes before it registered. He kept his distance, glanced around the bushel of sun-ripened cab drivers and chauffeurs waiting to squeeze every last euro out of their charges, but no.
This was him. Smile so bright it blinded, like glare off a windshield. Footballer’s frame decked in team colors and too-tight shorts. Face Bernini could have sculpted. Hair black as an oil slick, greased into a neat, perfect slope. His tortoiseshell eyes twinkled in Seb’s direction when he took a cautious step forward.
“Osaki. O-sak-i. Japanese.”
“You fly from Japan?”
“No. Canada. Montreal.”
“Si, si, Signor Osaki. Sebastiano.”
Seb opened his mouth to correct him but nodded instead. “That’s me.”
“Andrea Sorrentino.” He thumped a hand on his chest. “You want I take your bag?”
Before he could decide, the driver clacked down the handle on his extra-fee-heavy suitcase and hefted it under his arm like an unruly toddler. “Vieni, vieni.” He dove into the crowd before Seb could get his bearings.
Spotting the clean line to the exit, Seb set his own pace, his tipsy head still mired in a post-flight fugue. Thirty-two sleepless hours, plus a morning spent tracing and retracing his path through the labyrinthine halls of the Rome airport to make his connection, left him listless. With exhaustion but also nerves. What had he been thinking, shipping off to a country he’d never been to and where he didn’t speak the language?
The answer, of course, was Henry. Who should have been there, propping him up with his rock climber’s arms, but also with his wonderment, the kid-in-a-candy store way he’d seen the world. Henry had puffed all his energy and excitement and fire into Seb’s lead balloon and—in his latest impossible feat—made him fly.
Clutching his backpack like a life preserver, Seb practiced his deep breathing as he waded through the stream of travellers. More of a trickle, really, now that he was in the flow. One foot in front of the other, he reminded himself, looking for a focal point. A taut jean-clad ass, with a carefree swagger all its own, lured him the rest of the way. Seb staggered out of the airport terminal…
… into a whole new world. The hazy afternoon sun swaddled him like a warm blanket. Ripe with the scent of palm trees and petrol, the parking lot was more social gathering than frantic hub, with drivers chatting, smoking, and laughing as they waited for clueless travellers to wander by. Stoic mountains—silent sentries at the gate to paradise—shadowed the horizon, rings of mist crowning their crater heads.
Woozy with relief, Seb lowered his lids to half-mast and basked in the moment. This was Henry’s world. He was safe.
A hulking black SUV screeched to a halt in front of him, blocking the view. Before Seb could decide whether to be terrified or outraged, his driver slid open the side door, beckoning him into his luxury air-conditioned chariot. Too polite to give in to the urge to collapse across the seats and zonk out, Seb stumbled into the nearest chair. His hands shook as he fought with the seat belt. Something about that fateful click brought the reality back home—he was trapped in a jet-fuelled coffin with a man who could barely pronounce his name, soon to be zipping down a highway where speed limits weren’t even guidelines, thousands of miles from home, by a world-famous volcano that once scorched everything for miles—
Hand on his knee. There was a hand on his knee.
“Signor Osakay? You want I get you espresso? Water? Food? Is no trouble.”
“No.” Seb shut his eyes, sucked in all the air he could. “I… I’m just tired. Didn’t sleep on the plane.” When he opened them again, he met soft eyes shimmering with kindness. His exhalation came easy. So did his smile. What was his name again? Andrea Sorrentino. A gentle name, full of music.
“Granita al limone. Un momento.” A squeeze to Seb’s knee, and he hopped out the door.
Selina Kray is the nom de plume of an author and English editor. Professionally she has covered all the artsy-fartsy bases, having worked in a bookstore, at a cinema, in children’s television, and in television distribution, up to her latest incarnation as a subtitle editor and grammar nerd (though she may have always been a grammar nerd). A self-proclaimed geek and pop culture junkie who sometimes manages to pry herself away from the review sites and gossip blogs to write fiction of her own, she is a voracious consumer of art with both a capital and lowercase A.
Selina’s aim is to write genre-spanning romances with intricate plots, complex characters, and lots of heart. Whether she has achieved this goal is for you, gentle readers, to decide. At present she is hard at work on future novels at home in Montreal, Quebec, with her wee corgi serving as both foot warmer and in-house critic.
If you’re interested in receiving Selina’s newsletter and being the first to know when new books are released, plus getting sneak peeks at upcoming novels, please sign up at her website: www.selinakray.net
Find Selina online:
Facebook: Selina Kray / 23 Berkeley Square (Stoker & Bash fan page)
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