Today is the release day for JL Merrow’s new book Raising the Rent. A good opportunity for not only a review but a fabulous interview with the author to celebrate. Please welcome the author who needs no further introductions: JL Merrow author and organizer extraordinaire!
As I usually say in my bio, I’m that rare beast—a very English person who nevertheless refuses to drink tea. I’ve been writing m/m romance (and some f/f) for around five years now. Most of my books are set in my native land and feature very English characters, although I do like to venture abroad every now and then—I’ve set stories in Germany, Iceland and Austria, as well as a few in the US. I’m also a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
Can you tell us how Raising the Rent came about? How were you inspired to write the story?
Raising the Rent was originally a much shorter story, written in response to a Dreamspinner Press anthology call for the Sindustry anthology about guys “making a buck the hard way”, so that’s where the initial spark came from. And the student/teacher aspect is something I’ve always found intriguing—although more so in a college than in a traditional school, where the lines between teachers and pupils are more sharply drawn (and rightly so).
You have a few stories about students down on their luck, but I found Nathan’s story to be a bit darker than your previous stories. Was this intentional?
It’s true to say that over the past few years, I’ve got more comfortable writing lighter, more humorous stuff. But I like to leaven the light with a little dark every now and then! 😉
Nathan is a strong and independent character. Can you give us some insight into his character?
Nathan’s upbringing left him with a fierce desire to prove himself. His mum, whom he was very close to, died when he was in his teens, leaving him with a homophobic drunkard of a stepdad who told Nathan he was good for nothing. Nathan’s determined to show how wrong the man was about him—but more than that, he wants to do what he knows would have made his mum proud by getting an education and getting off the streets.
Funny question time. You are compelled to compete in a quiz show. Pick three of your characters for your team.
Ooh, I think the first would have to be Robert from Caught! as he’s quite well educated. He’d be brilliant at certain areas—classic old literature, and anything involving numbers, such as England (cricket) batting averages—but absolute pants at things like popular culture, music and football. So for those, I’d probably want his lover Sean. And for my final choice, can I pick someone who hasn’t been published yet? Because there’s a guy in my current WIP, Tristan, who’d be fabulous for anything to do with the arts (and also, bluffing his way through the questions he couldn’t answer!)
What was the hardest thing about writing Raising the rent?
As you know, the story first appeared in a much shorter form in the Sindustry Vol 1 anthology. The hardest thing when writing it initially was keeping the word count down to the maximum allowed! I think I still overshot by around 500 words, so I just rounded down and hoped they wouldn’t check! Doing the re-write was like taking off a very tight corset, and I think the story is much better for now being more than twice as long.
What does your writing process look like? Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
What does my writing process look like? Hmm. Quite a lot like a ball of yarn after it’s been played with by a very energetic kitten! I don’t plan books out beforehand, although I do have a rough idea of where they’re going, and I tend not to write linearly—just get scenes down on paper when they come into my head. I never seem to know exactly how a story will go until I write it.
The amount of research I do varies, but yes, I do quite a bit. For example, I’ll visit locations I’m using (or if that’s not practical, make use of Google maps and find a local brain to pick). I often find research, as well as making sure I get the details correct, throws up extra story ideas. For example, the pub I based the Devil’s Dyke in the Plumber’s Mate series on has a secret passageway in a fireplace. It only gets a throwaway mention in Pressure Head, but it plays a pivotal role in Heat Trap! (due out March 2015).
People, though, are often the best resource, especially if they’re enthusiastic about the subject you’re interviewing them on.
Can you share a bit of what you are working on now?
LOL! I already did that with that mention of Tristan, didn’t I? I’m currently working on Played!, the second in the Shamwell Tales (Caught! was the first), which features another cross-class romance, this time between an actor and a handyman. Tristan, of course, is the actor, and he doesn’t make a good first impression on Con, the handyman. Spoilers! – Con soon gets to like Tristan a lot better! 😉
Here’s an unedited snippet from Played!
Con stood up abruptly. “Um, it’s not that I don’t… But you’re going off to New York in a couple of months. It’s not gonna work, is it?”
Tristan lolled back in the cushions with a pout, manfully restraining himself from rolling his eyes. “I was after a bit of fun, not your work-roughened hand in marriage.”
“That’s the point, innit? Look, I don’t do casual. It’s just not me.” Con wrapped his big arms around himself.
Tristan felt a surge of jealousy. “Why on earth not?”
“I just don’t, okay? I mean, I like you and all, but I just don’t wanna…”
Tristan frowned. “It’s the height, isn’t it? Just because I’m not constructed on Herculean lines—”
“It’s got nothing to do with how big you are.” Con flushed. “I mean, tall.”
“It’d better not be because I’m Jewish.”
“You’re not bloody listening. We just want different stuff, all right?”
“Sex is a biological imperative. Men are programmed to want it. Why would you even try to deny that?”
“I’m not denying nothing, okay? I just don’t wanna sleep with you. End of.”
One day, Tristan thought dully, he’d be called upon to give a performance as Julius Caesar being shivved by his senators. All he’d have to do would be to remember the precise degree of stabbing pain he could feel now in the chest area, and the Olivier Award would be in the bag.
“Well, you’ve made yourself perfectly clear,” he heard himself saying. He stood up. “And now I come to think of it, good thing too. It was a ridiculous idea, anyway. After all, what on earth could you and I have in common?”
Con blinked, slowly, a few times. Then his face hardened. “Right. So I guess you’ll be going now, then.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to take up any more of your no doubt valuable time.”
Tristan was halfway down the stairs before he heard the gentle click of the door shutting behind him. He felt sick. This was… this was all wrong.
This never happened. Not to Tristan.
Can you give us a fun fact/tid bit about one of your books?
Remember the bit in Caught! with the family-size box of Weetabix that turned out to contain more than just cereal? That actually happened to a friend of mine. And yes, his reaction was pretty similar to Robert’s! 😉
Blurb: Rent boy rule number one: Never fall in love with a customer.
Life as a rent boy is not a long-term career goal for Nathan, who’s determined to get an education. But when he turns up for his first day at college he’s horrified to find his English teacher is one of his regular customers: Stephen, the one Nathan dubbed The Voice for his educated, honeyed tones.
Stephen’s just as shocked to see Nathan sitting in his class, not to mention terrified he’s about to be exposed as having paid for sex with a student—which would mean public humiliation and maybe the loss of his job. Yet it’s clear Nathan is only interested in getting his A Levels, not in blackmail. And Stephen realizes there’s more to the nineteen-year-old than meets the eye.
Nathan still has to earn a living, though, and when a customer turns ugly, he finds himself homeless and unable to work. Stephen steps in to help, and Nathan starts to think they could have a future together—if Stephen’s guilt and lack of trust don’t end their back-to-front romance before it starts.
This book has been previously published.
Product Warnings: Contains unfashionable haircuts, unreasonably long words, and a May-December romance between a not-so-streetwise rent boy and an erudite English teacher.
Review: Raising the Rent was originally part of a Dreamspinner anthology. Now it’s a bit more fleshed out. I admit I didn’t read the original story and I’m glad for that, because I love the story as it is.
The story focuses on Nathan, a down on his luck soon-to-be college student who is determined to prove that he can make it in the real world on his own, despite what his family says. Streetwise he may definitely not be, but he’s got determination, will power and purpose by the bucket load. Things are not easy working as a rent boy and sharing a crappy studio apartment, but Nathan will do anything to get his college degree.
He has a bit of a Grey’s Anatomy experience when he discovers one of his regulars to be his college professor. Embarrassing to say the least. Yet, there might just be more there than he thought.
Question is, is there?
Raising the Rent is a short but sweet story that has just the right amount of words. It was well written in a very JL British way. This can especially be seen in Stephen’s voice. He made me grab the dictionary a few times!
The story is told from Nathan’s point of view and through him we learn quite a lot about him and the world he lives in. At the same time the story is not told, but experienced. Nathan is a sweet guy who’s had a hard time. As a reader you can’t help but admire how he tries to be whom he wants to be. He doesn’t give up.
Stephen is a harder person to get to know and I initially didn’t like him much. We only get to know him through Nathan and Stephen is not a talkative person. I would have liked to get a bit more insight into his character.
Raising the Rent is a bit darker than what were are used to by this JL, but it’s not angst riddled. I found that this story was exactly what it is, a story sweet story about a young man finding his way in life and finds romance in the least likely of places. All in a well written, gentle and easy going package.
Why you should read it: Raising the Rent is a kind May-December romance with a hero who doesn’t just lay down when the going gets tough, he gets tough, with a little help and love from his friends