It’s release day for my writing buddy Asha King’s book BEAST, the latest in the Midsummer Suspense tales – I was lucky to get to read this one early, and though there is a connecting thread, you don’t need to have read the prior books, this definitely works as a standalone too.
And damn, this Beauty and the Beast story ain’t no Disney tale! Mystery, murder, action, and kink, I’m awed at what Asha pulled off here. And now I get to interview her! Check out my Q&A with Asha below then hop on over to Amazon to grab a copy.
Welcome back, Asha! Let’s start with an easy one. What made you decide to take on fairytales?
Funny you should ask that, Mr. Cox. 😉
I am actually quite fortunate to have a few good friends who are writers (my smut buddies), and many times they help inspire, or least encourage, ideas—for example, my books wouldn’t even exist without my good friend Aylia Ryvelt’s encouragement. I’d mentioned to one of them, who may or may not be my gracious host today, that I’d wanted to do interracial fairy tales, but had a lot on my plate.
The idea kept bugging me, so I decided to look at Amazon; lo and behold, there were interracial contemporary fairy tales for sale. I had the wind knocked out of my sails and felt quite saddened, as I was really looking forward to it.
And then you encouraged me to do it anyway. So I got pondering the idea and the great thing about fairy tales is that they don’t have to be fantasy or paranormal—they’re stories that work in any genre. Since I’ve found my own writing veering toward romantic suspense, that seemed the logical choice for genre, and then wasn’t encroaching on anyone else’s territory.
There’s a lot of danger and darkness you have your characters face that make the books more exciting. Do you have boundaries you want cross in a romance, or does anything go as long as it’s key to the storyline?
I go wherever the story needs to. Obviously there are certain expectations within romance I have to meet, like not killing the hero (though readers know that even that is something I will play with) but otherwise nothing is off the table.
Fairy tales also lend themselves well to darkness, as the original ones were quite dark. I’ve found as the Midsummer Suspense Tales continue, they’re getting darker and darker as we go. Cinders began with a sweeter relationship against a backdrop of dark abuse against the heroine. From there, the stories have developed quite an edge. Beast is the fourth book and the darkest yet, but I don’t think you can really do a retelling of a Stockholm Syndrome romance while keeping it sweet.
How do you create the balance between toughness and vulnerability in your tough as nails heroes?
Ultimately I think it’s because non-vulnerable men do not appeal to me at all.
The whole “alpha/beta male” debate gets on my nerves because what most people have deemed “alpha” is actually “asshole”. An alpha, to me, is a man who takes care of his family—not a possessive brute out of the Stone Age but someone with emotional maturity and security who puts his loved ones ahead of his own needs. He will fight to protect them and he respects women.
So toughness + vulnerability is natural and super hot to me. Maddox in Bad Moon Rising being a virgin, for example, was sweet and beautiful and had no bearing on his strength. With Carter in The Book of Love, it’s clear he hasn’t been with anyone since his wife before the divorce during the love scenes, and his hands shake a little with nervousness—it’s incredibly endearing and that vulnerability doesn’t make him weak at all.
The heroes in the Midsummer Suspense Tales world often have their lives on the line for the women they love, and I think the sheer fact that they let another person mean so much to them is a sign of vulnerability.
Your heroines, especially in the fairy tales, have suffered a lot in their past and been victims, yet they’re ultimately strong and independent. Is the intentional?
Absolutely, and probably not for the reason a lot of people think. There are a lot of books where the female characters have been through terrible things and it’s done for no reason other than the writer seems to think, “Everyone must have a shocking, traumatic background!”
While it’s true that strength can come out of trauma, for me it comes down to wanting to see that story told (no matter how many times I tell it). As a survivor of trauma, I like to see other stories of survivors. I like to be reminded of how resilient women are, how we can go through hell and come out the other side whole. To quote The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “White dudes hold the record for creepy crimes—but females are strong as hell.” There is always a chance that someone who is reading one of my books has been through something terrible and if I can help remind them that survivors are strong and they deserve happiness, I’ve done my job.
That is also the really beautiful thing about the romance genre as a whole. Women—all women, no matter what they’ve survived—get their happily ever after. (Of course, so do men.)
Let’s talk about Beast specifically. This book ties to earlier Midsummer stories more than ever with Joseph mentioned in Beauty. Was this planned all along?
By the time I got to Beauty, I knew I’d be introducing future heroes and heroines from book to book—writing Cinders I knew immediately that Michael O’Hara would be the hero of Snow. But it wasn’t until the first draft of Beauty was written that I thought, hmm, maybe the villain’s son wasn’t dead—maybe he lived but went into hiding. I rewrote the epilogue to reveal he’d lived and knew by that point he absolutely had to be my “beast”. So generally with the Midsummer books, each story was planned two or three books ahead of time. The sixth (and likely final) one, Red, has actually been planned from the very beginning and I’m quite excited about who that “hero” is.
Belle spends most of the book with no idea of what Joseph actually looks like, yet the sexual tension is still palpable and erotic. Was that particularly challenging?
I think it would’ve been if it was strictly her point of view, but thankfully Joseph had plenty of scenes to fill in visual information for the reader and strike a balance there. But writing erotic romance, we often get caught up in visual cues when there are four other senses to explore in detail that can be just as hot as seeing some washboard abs (if not more). The tale of Beauty and the Beast, at its core, is about falling in love with the person you find below the surface, so taking that one step further and having Belle blindfolded seemed natural to me.
Did you worry at all about how Joseph would be received as a hero in a genre populated by visually stunning men?
I honestly go into every book assuming everyone will hate it—this is my fifteenth published book and it only took like three for me to realize people will not like them and be very vocal about it. So letting go of the worry about whether or not anyone would like Joseph was quite freeing for me as a writer. It allowed me to be entirely true to him as a character and not file down any of his sharp edges. Some will really respond to that while others won’t, and that’s cool. Personally, I dig a big, strong, broody, scarred hero.
And I suppose that worry pales in comparison to making your heroine take a job as a prostitute.
Yep! Another unfortunate fact of the romance world: women get flayed for the same behavior men display all the time. I’ll write a heroine who only has sex with the hero in the book, no signs of promiscuity, and she’ll be branded a slut while the hero isn’t. Double standards always apply, so while I didn’t think Joseph hiring a sex worker would seem like a big deal, certainly, having Belledona take the job—even just to investigate these crimes—is something that might not go over well. But at the end of the day this is fiction, it is fantasy, and characters do things you and I wouldn’t. My job is to tell this story of two people who are very different and yet fit together, and how they find their way to one another.
And then make it really hot.
What’s next for Midsummer? Obviously it cannot end here…
Not when there are more fairy tales to tell! Next on my plate is Gold. I’d wanted to do something with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but there’s not really enough meat to that story, IMO. Then my mind wandered a little and I thought about Rumpelstiltskin/The Miller’s Daughter, spinning straw into gold, and the idea went from there. Gold is about the “baby bear” of a family who’s always had trouble with the law, and how he finds a hacker girl trying to escape the criminal underworld by hiding in a cabin he’s supposed to be preparing for summer tourists.
After that, the (probably) final book is Red, where Raina and her grandmother come face to face with a monstrous serial killer, and the only one standing between Raina and certain death is the equally dangerous hitman known as The Huntsman.
Just six books, then?
The thing about fairy tales is that there are always more to draw on. A few years down the road I might try another trilogy of tales if inspiration strikes.
There’s always The Little Mermaid, after all…
Thanks for coming by, Asha, and congrats on the release of another great book. To check out Asha’s other books visit her author site, ashaking.com.