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.
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.
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.