Awakened Series

The Story Behind: PARADISUS

TROUBLE IN PARADISE?

“You cannot put that in a story!” My editor said. “No one’s going to buy it!”

At this point in the Awakened Series, I believe I have thoroughly cemented the fact that I have broken nearly every so-called “rule” of book publishing there is to break in building a successful book series. Crossing several fiction genres, deliberately incorporating social, political and religious taboos, promoting a romance written for men, incorporating steamy same-sex relationships … the Awakened Series truly defies not just description, but kicks-to-the-curb every so-called mainstream publishing “no-no” as well.

And the fans of the Awakened Series have loved every minute of it!

Honestly—it was totally by accident. All I did was listen to the advice of some of some very successful people who basically told me: “Don’t write what everyone else is writing. Write what you yourself would want to read.”

And so ends my so-called “experiment” of delivering an intriguing paranormal mystery sci-fi romantic story that both men and women would enjoy reading. The series has become a great success! I have rabid fans.

What I didn’t realize when I began writing the series was that quite a few of the couples in the story were not totally straight. I know, I know, you’re now scratching your head. “Harley, YOU wrote the story!” No, I didn’t; the people in the story do that. This may come as a shock and surprise to many, but I do not write the story—the people in the story do. All I do is follow along and write what they say and do. As a writer, Harley Austin never knows what’s going to happen within a book as I sit down to write it. I don’t know what’s going to happen or even what the end of the book is going to be. I’m very often just as surprised by a book’s story, content, relationships, and ending as you are.

Paradisus was one of these big surprises. Not just because the main characters are male, but because Paradisus explodes the Awakened epic into a hugely powerful story I had really no idea was coming. By the end of the book even I was dumbfounded and excited.

It’s a powerful, deeply moving, epic kind of story.

The truth is, I did not start out to write an epic straight-gay romance series, but at this point there are perhaps as many straight couples as there are gay couples within the series. I’m not really sure how this happened. I didn’t exactly plan the series to go this direction. I’m just as surprised as many of my fans have been. And you as the fans of the series are my biggest surprise of all.

I have been both delightfully surprised, intrigued and dumbfounded by the overwhelming positive response of readers, both straight and gay, men and women, encountering the different “ships” within the epic. Overwhelmingly, readers continue to tell me how much they love the story. My fans did not just junk the books because of a same-sex relationship. You have responded positively, engrossed in and captivated by the people living out their lives within it.

I WAS TOLD over and over, and I’m STILL being told in fact, that having steamy-hot same-sex ships within a story would utterly tank the series for traditional mystery, romance intrigue readers. I continue to have to battle editors over this. But, again, I simply wrote from the heart—what needed to be written following the lives of the people within the story.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the “ships” or a story brimming with hot romantic detail. But I didn’t set out to please every reader—I set out write an epic paranormal sci-fi  mystery romance that both men and women, I guess even gay men and women now, would enjoy reading. There is indeed something for everyone, from a romantic perspective, within the story, even if a particular ship isn’t your cup of tea.

Listening to the common knowledge, the do’s and don’ts of the traditional publishers, the Awakened Series would have been doomed from the outset. But the response from even the most critical readers of my beta team, even some of my nay-saying editors, has been very positive.

I hope you are enjoying the Awakened books as much as I have enjoyed writing them. My best wishes, thoughts and prayers to you for taking the time to make my stories a part of your life!

The Story Behind: RELIC

CITY OF GOLD

Relic was one of those books that sort of happened by accident. After finishing SIREN, the so-called short story (nearly 200 pages in print) ended up ending leaving me with not so much a cliff-hanger, which I hate, but with an ending that was begging for a sequel.

I wrote Relic in a couple of weekends over a two-week period. In the meantime, my editor who is also a talented graphic designer was tossing ideas for book covers at me left and right. Honestly, I rejected all of them, but when I saw to golden-red cover with the Aztec-looking ziggurat and the huge being in the background, not only did I know that this was the cover I wanted but she also ended up in a roundabout way helping me create the end of the story I hadn’t finished writing yet.

Relic has become one of my faves in that it has some big backstory reveals of what will be coming in the main series, and also who some of the people are that have been a bit of mystery so far.

I loved the character development as well and some of the surprise “ships” that happen within the story.

Just so you know, I’m not done with these people: Liam, Tori, Monica, Mac and the crew of the Neptune. There’s gonna be more … stay tuned!

The Story Behind: INTERRA

Although it has become Book 5, Interra is really the story that started it all. It is the pilot, if you will, from which the entire Awakened Series was built. While the book has undergone some rather heavy editing since its inception, the story itself has survived with the original characters and romance well intact.

Back in early December of 2011, I began writing a simple romance for my wife. At the time I didn’t really know what to expect from the story, it was my first real foray into the romance genre, and I really wanted to write something that both men and women would enjoy reading. I knew the book would have some kind of paranormal or sci-fi backstory, but I didn’t want that to overshadow the plot of the book. The book was a romance and I wanted to keep story squarely within that genre.

As it turned out, my wife loved what I had written, so I continued to evolve the story. The original working title for this original book was called “The Sentinel”. Over the next five years I continued to slowly evolve the plot and the characters, simply adding to the story in a kind of run-on rambling mess.

However, it was out of this first novel that another story began to develop based on what I had written within “The Sentinel”. My wife liked the story so much that she suggested I write another book to expand the story. “This could be an epic series!” she encouraged.

So with that inspiration, the next book, “Awakened”, began to take form. Originally entitled “Lost”, Awakened had a bunch of different titles and series names that I toyed with in trying to develop the series. I had called the series the “Books of God” for what should be obvious reasons by now, but the beta team thought that this sounded too religious and that it would turn people off. I finally settled on the “Awakened Series” which to this day still makes the series sound like the latest vampire chronicles, but it is what it is.

When I began writing what has become “Interra”, what I really wanted to do were a number of things: One, I wanted to try to capture something really different, something no one had really done before, and spin the story in my own inimitable way. Two, I wanted to try to capture the public’s intrigue with a paranormal romance but I didn’t want another dark vampire or mind-numbed shape-shifting werewolf tale. What I really wanted was a sort of mashup of the popularity of Twilight with the forbidden sex of Fifty Shades of Grey. What would that look like? And I really thought deeply about this for quite a few months.

We saw some of this forbidden love early in book two, with Kari and Julia in a same-sex relationship, but I didn’t get too descriptive with it. Partly because I was a much more timid writer back then, but mostly because I was pushing the limits of my own comfort zone. It would not be until book three of the series that I finally got more bold as a writer and took the plunge, diving headlong into a first-time same-sex romance.

Let me admit to you right now that I was really, really nervous about writing this episode within the story. What would people think? Both of it and of me? Would the audience be turned off and abandon ship? Would I totally tank the whole of the epic series because people would hate reading about two guys falling into and making love?

I honestly didn’t know.

I will tell you that some of the beta readers were livid about this romance showing up in the story. They hated the “new direction” the series had taken with the same-sex romances being seeded into the story. One of my editors actually quit, she hated it so much. “You’ve turned what would have been an otherwise fabulous epic series into something no one will want to read now!” my editor fumed.

Really?

I carefully weighed changing the series after this blow-up with my editor; it was an argument that lasted probably close to year off and on.

In the end, I finally did something I think few people actually expected. I went with my gut. I had written what I had written. I liked very much the characters within the story and I was deeply invested in who they were as people. After all, a part of me was within each of them.

I made the decision to not change a thing. The Awakened Series would be what it would be. If the public hated it, then they hated it. So be it.

But as the beta reader group began to grow, something beautiful and miraculous was happening. Both male and female readers alike were engrossed in the story! What I thought (from what I was told) would become a major “turn-off” for the group was actually something they had no problem with at all. One of the beta team, a woman, expressed to me that she thought reading about a gay relationship would feel funny or weird. But she admitted that the way I had written the story, the romance between the two guys was very enticing and undeniably romantic. She really could feel the characters’ attraction and affection for each other.

I was heartened by other readers on the beta team as well who expressed their fondness for the romantic twists that paired same-sex couples as well as straight couples.

In the end, I am grateful for these early beta readers and for their encouraging feedback of the series. Without them, the Awakened Series might have taken a very different, more commercially common turn.

I have made it no secret that this series has probably broken almost every so-called rule there is to break within the mainstream publishing industry. Still, nearly everyone who reads the series has become a fan. That, more than anything, has been well worth following my instincts and weaving a story unlike any other for people to enjoy.

The Story Behind: INVICTUS

Invictus Book SmallWith the Awakened Series now moving into book four, it has become interesting for me as a storyteller to see the response from readers about the direction a story takes and specifically some of the surprising relationships that have developed within the story. Within the previous book, Legacy, I didn’t start out with the idea of “shipping” some of the characters the way they turned out. But I indeed developed those relationships because they felt to me to be a very natural kind of progression.

Some beta readers found the surprise “ships” awesome and intriguing, while others hated the relationships that developed because they simply didn’t want to see those particular characters in certain relationships. Whether some readers like the relationships or not, I was heartened that the readers were invested in the people within the story to really care.

As a story and a novel series, the Awakened Series breaks all the rules of mainstream publishing.

Things happen within Harley Austin books that are not “politically correct”, not “mainstream”, not “socially acceptable”, deeply “controversial” and even “highly offensive” to some. There isn’t a single individual who won’t in some way be offended by a Harley Austin book. For this I make no apologies. That’s life. Although a fiction series, there are many things within these books that will always hit a little too close to home, because they are indeed a deep reflection of our own true-to-life circumstances, personal desires and current real-life events.

Invictus no less carries on this same Harley Austin tradition of the earlier books in the series; perhaps going even deeper than the previous ones in bringing to light things we as people think about, but would never discuss openly—with anyone.

I believe within all of us there is a hidden curiosity that seeks to know “what if”? Stories in many ways allow us to safely explore within ourselves those “what if’s” and live out within the lives of the fictional people we read about our own secrets, our own desires, our own private fantasies and our someday hoped-for dreams.

For the record, the Awakened Series is not specifically a “gay” book series because a novel (or a few of them) within the series has a non-straight romance. There are a number of non-straight relationships that happen within this series, not because I am pushing some pet personal agenda, but because that is who we are as a people.

I wrote this series from the outset to be something both men and women would enjoy reading. I have been greatly heartened by the very positive response from straight men and women who see the people in the story for who they are. Just people, like all of us, just trying to survive.

I hope you enjoy reading Invictus the Awakened Series as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

~ Harley

The Story Behind: LEGACY

Legacy Book SmallNow that the Awakened Series has indeed taken flight, I am very encouraged that readers have been writing me asking for more. Although I have been writing my entire life, I have kept my stories fairly tame. Awakened allowed me to step outside of my own boundaries by writing a steamy romance that was well received by male and female readers alike.

Within Dominion, I spread my wings a bit more and ran with some new themes and even some new “ships” between the people in the story that I felt naturally drawn to and subsequently developed. I was heartened and deeply moved to hear that readers were staying up all night reading Dominion, utterly riveted to the story. Still, within Dominion, I admittedly restrained myself in not opening up more detail about some of the relationships that occurred within the story. I just didn’t think readers would be interested in them.

As the story of Legacy began to take shape, something happened within the plot that never, ever occurred to me while writing book one, or even book two for that matter. Since this isn’t a spoiler, suffice to say that Legacy represents, for me anyway, a no-holds-barred, plunge into the Awakened milieu that I honestly hadn’t planned on taking.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Harley Austin is a relationship junkie. My propensity to “ship” different people in the story in ways that are—a little unexpected—continues within Legacy. Readers have both praised and hated me for it. Still, it makes me feel good to know that readers are interested enough in the people within the story to send me accolades and hate mail.

Although the Awakened series sets up and delivers powerful romance within a very different kind of story, I have never really wanted to bill the series as “romance”. I did not want to pigeonhole the story as only appealing to this or that type or brand of audience. It is simply a story—to be taken at face value.

Anything can happen.

Don’t be surprised when it does.

Finally, I am going to remind readers that Awakened is a series, an epic story told over the course of many books; how many books at this point is anyone’s guess. As such, we will see people suddenly show up within the story that we know very little about. We learn more about them as the story progresses.

Also, there will be things that happen within a book that will go unresolved—and indeed will remain unresolved perhaps until the very end.

I hate authors who spin up a plot and then deliberately end the book in a kind of cliffhanger in order to get you to buy the next book in the series. I don’t do that; not on purpose anyway. But as the Awakened story heats up, trust me, there are going to be loose ends that cannot be resolved within a single book. Nor do I intend to resolve them in one neat, tidy little package.

For the record, the Awakened books write themselves. I’m often just as much in the dark as you are about what’s going to happen next. Legacy ended in a way I personally was not expecting. I, as much as you, am waiting to see what develops as this epic story continues to unfold.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading my stories.

~ Harley

The Story Behind: DOMINION

Dominion Book SmallAwakened, the first book in this series, was a story some five years in the writing. Not that it took me that long to write it, but one gets sidetracked with other projects, work, family and everything else in between. The Awakened story was like a slowly simmering meal in the crockpot as I added different aspects to the milieu over a long period of time and the fullness of the backstory began to take shape.

Awakened actually underwent a couple of rewrites. A few of the beta readers complained that the ramp-up was a bit too slow. Perhaps it is, but the story overall got excellent reviews from the beta team.

By contrast, the story you now hold in your hands came together in under four months as I wrote in my spare time. One of the beta readers and also my editor, stayed up all night reading the initial draft, utterly riveted to the story.

I began writing the book with the idea of telling the entire story from a first person perspective as other successful authors have done. But half way through the book I junked the first-person perspective as way too limiting for my writing style and had to rewrite the entire first half of the book again. This first-person viewpoint made an excellent prelude however. So that at least that part of the original story survived.

Dominion has been a surprise for me in a number of different ways. The story gave me an opportunity to really spread my wings as an author and take a few chances that I did not know if readers would wholly appreciate. I was pleasantly surprised by the response. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Dominion would also become a cornerstone within the series’ milieu.

Because Dominion was, I felt, a much stronger story and book, I wish now it had been written first instead of Awakened. Indeed I was tempted to swap the two books and rename the series Dominion. However, that didn’t happen.

Altogether, I am very pleased with the way Awakened has been received and I know that if you liked the story that Awakened began, Dominion will be a delight for you to immerse yourself into as well.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading my stories.

~ Harley

The Story Behind: AWAKENED

Awakened Book SmallWhen I began writing what would become the milieu behind Awakened about seven years ago, it was a simple short story intended for my wife—a sweet romance as told by me—written from my own masculine perspective. Of course, I had read a few of her romance novels, but I’d found most of them rather dry and unappealing—from a male perspective.

I found the idea of a “romance mystery” very intriguing, but clearly, these novels were written only for a female audience. Why hadn’t someone written something like this for a much wider audience?

I set out to produce a steamy romance while keeping the story elegant, riveting and deeply compelling. It was to be a romance that would be something I myself would actually want to read; a story that would appeal to more than just the so-called “romance crowd”; a book that anyone, especially men who’d never be caught dead venturing into the romance genre, would want to read.

It should be no secret that men and women view love and romance very differently. That does not mean that the female view of romance is any more correct or superior than the male view. It just means that they are different. What would happen if a story could be blended to appeal to both sexes?

While writing Awakened, I encountered what seemed to be a prejudice among other (usually female) authors that men cannot write romance. I found the assertions and prejudices of these other so-called authors patently ridiculous.

It seems the bestseller crowd attempts to write to the broadest possible “target market” and their work is often heavily edited so as not to offend the delicate, dare I say fickle, sensibilities of whatever market segment they want the most readership from.

I set out to do the exact opposite.

With some bold advice from a very successful author and junking the advice from all of the so-called publishing “experts”, I did something Earthshattering: I wrote what I wanted to write, in the way I wanted to write it, and I didn’t care who I offended in the process.

In doing so, I believe I have broken almost every so-called rule there was to break in brining Awakened to market.

In the end, I learned something very valuable as an author, storyteller and writer, and it was simply this: Always trust your instincts and write what you feel—not what you think some market segment wants. It is the only way to stay true to yourself.

Awakened boldly sets out to create what I hope becomes a new and powerful genre of story, a deep mystery, intrigue, romance that attracts both male and female audiences alike. The story, perhaps experimentally, attempts to strike a balance between what both men and women would find interesting and appealing when reading a sincerely romantic novel with a heavy dose of the unexpected.

I hope you enjoy reading Awakened and the rest of the series that follows.

~ Harley