Life After Joe by Harper Fox

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Hello, I’m Harper Fox. My novel Life After Joe is my first-ever book to be published, so I’m very excited about that, and to be part of the Carina launch – a great opportunity, and one I nearly missed because I somehow mixed up my launch date with the date for this blog! So first of all, a massive thank-you to Angela for giving me a little more time, and a warning to you all that my absolute-beginner status will probably make itself clear on more occasions to come.

I love the cover art for Life After Joe. It was an indescribable feeling, opening up the file when Aideen sent it to me as a draft. I can paint, but not very well, and certainly not well enough to pull the images from my head in pictorial form – which is partly why I write, I suppose. There was a strange and almost surreal thrill in seeing my protagonists, Matt and Aaron, there in the gorgeous flesh, Aaron complete with his rose tattoo. Also a sense of double vision – the artist’s concept of these two men running alongside my own in my head. And the artist’s vision being just as valid as my own, which gave me a fresh perspective on what happens when people read my stories – the alchemical process whereby words on a page become living flesh and blood in readers’ minds. I write in quite a pictorial way. I like to write scenes that people feel they could enter and walk around inside and know where everything is, so to have that process reversed on me – to see Matt and Aaron – was bizarre. And wonderful. Oh, the joy of being illustrated!

Anyway, who are these men? Here’s the blurb for Life After Joe, to give you a taste…

It’s not the breaking up that kills you, it’s the aftermath.

Ever since his longtime lover decided he’d seen the “heterosexual light”, Matt’s life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he’s on the verge of losing everything, but he’s finding it hard to care.

Then Matt meets Aaron. He’s gorgeous, intelligent, and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn’t turn away. Aaron’s kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he’s worth it – and that there could be life after Joe. But his new-found happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone….

I think what I wanted to do more than anything else when writing Life After Joe was to challenge my own belief in the redeeming power of love. I wanted to take a character, break his heart, render him down to substance-abusing despair, then say to Love, or Aaron in this case, “Okay, fix that. Oh, and, er – do it convincingly.” Whether or not Aaron, Love and I succeeded will be up to readers to decide, but here’s a sample of how we went about it. (Matt’s best friend Lou has just made an unexpected and unwanted pass at him in a nightclub. Matt, even full of cocktails and the remains of his previous night’s half-unintentional overdose, knows that’s a bad idea, but rejecting Lou is about to leave him even lonelier and more lost than before…)

I heard myself say, quiet and polite as if we had been strangers, “Okay. I’m gonna go now, all right? You stay here.”

Oh Christ. You stay, you fucking loser. You’ll be lucky if you can still walk.”

Was he gone? I supposed so. The lights from the dance floor were no longer beating out his shadow on the table. Just at the moment, I did not want to lift my head and look.

I did not want to lift my head. The stone in my throat had become a boulder, a scald. I thought about what Lou had said. Rationally, I knew he’d been sitting on something—jealousy, resentment, whatever—and for whatever reasons, it had all just come clawing out. I was astonished—Lou, for God’s sake!—but I shouldn’t give his outburst too much mind.

But I had started thinking about Joe. I’d never been that much to write home about, had I? I’d thought so once—not in any particularly arrogant way, just aware that I was reasonably intelligent, decent looking, capable of loving. Oh yeah, certainly capable of that. And I’d always assumed Joe’s defection had been just for the reasons he’d given me. He wanted a girl, and no matter how lovely a bloke I might be, I couldn’t answer that. Now I began to wonder. “You fucking loser…” I hadn’t been a loser or a drunk back then, but maybe I was lacking things other than tits and a womb that Joe couldn’t live without. Maybe I’d been bristling with things he couldn’t live with, and he’d never been able to tell me.

I jerked up one hand to my mouth, pressed my palm tight. For a second I thought I was going to be sick. Then my vision blurred, and I knew it was worse. God no, I prayed silently to whatever deity might look after feckless drunks in nightclubs. I couldn’t cry here…

The air changed. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly, and all I could see was a retinal jump, red to black, as the pulsating lights swept the room. I didn’t really care, but little hairs all down one side of my neck gave a prickle and lifted; olfactory cells fired. Sunlight. No, because that had no smell, but something I associated with sun, as if someone had picked up the Powerhouse from its city-dregs location, dropped it on sand dunes and lifted its roof. Salt. Warm grass. A breath of life from a different bloody world. And weirdest of all, I recognised it. Last time Aaron had stood close to me, I’d been too busy hitting on him to notice the way he smelled…

It must have registered, though. I opened my eyes, and he was there, holding out a hand to me. In the shifting lights, the air which still managed to be smoky, despite the ban, he looked utterly solid and real. His eyes were unfathomable as ever, but their expression was somehow so kind it loosened my joints. He said, smiling faintly, “Do you want to dance?”

Of course I didn’t bloody want to dance. If he wanted to talk to me, he could take the seat Lou had just vacated. I looked at his hand. Its palm was broad, the fingers long, eloquent of power. I could see them manipulating steel, vast machineries, hauling up oil from its ancient hiding places under the North Sea. I could see him drawing me to my feet against my will if I put out my hand in return to touch him. I did. I hadn’t realised I was cold. When his grip closed round mine, its warmth seemed to shoot up my arm and into my chest. He exerted a gentle tug. “I’d have come over sooner,” he said, “but you gave me a good demo the other night of what happens around here to men who move on other blokes’ boyfriends.”

Lou’s not my boyfriend,” I said unsteadily. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to hide in this corner until this latest humiliation—public tears, worse to me than public sex—was over. The tugging sensation increased, and I got up, only half voluntarily. He looked into my face. “Come on,” he said softly. “It’ll be better. Come on.”

I didn’t believe him, but the sheer technicalities of making my doped body walk with him onto the dance floor distracted me, restored to me some kind of control. I tried to recognise the track. Not “Riverside,” thank Christ—something older, from about six years ago. “Pray” by Syntax. Rippling, insistent bass line under a bone-melting vocal. The floor was heaving. I couldn’t imagine Aaron leaping about with this bunch of kids, and for me, it would be a physical impossibility. I tried to break away from him.

He put an arm around my waist and, without the least effort or hint of force, reeled me in. I didn’t even know what was happening until I was pressed close against him, breathing that sun-and-earth scent. There was no leaping involved. He moved with an unhurried power, picking up the strong first beat in the bar, drawing me in with him, instant sweet synch. His hand went to the small of my back. I clutched at him reflexively, first just in order to stay on my feet, and then because I never wanted to let go.

I hope you enjoyed that. In my next post, I’ll tell you a little about the background to Life After Joe, how I came to write it, and how a few uncertain plot-outline notes became a Carina novel!

25 thoughts on “Life After Joe by Harper Fox”

  1. Bernita says:

    Harper, this is beautiful, beautiful writing. You are wonderfully talented.

  2. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you so much, Bernita. I loved writing Life After Joe and it’s wonderful to hear that other people like it, too x

  3. josh lanyon says:

    I just want to pop in to say how much I love this book, and how very happy I am it’s seeing the light of day with Carina Press. Congratulations!

  4. Bonnie Dee says:

    Very lovely prose. Thanks for sharing this excerpt.

  5. Chris says:

    Hi, Harper! After seeing all the nice things Josh and LB have been saying about your book, I’m looking forward to reading it!

  6. Harper_Fox says:

    Ooh! Josh, it’s you. This is clever, isn’t it? Thank you so much!

  7. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you so much, Bonnie. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt x

  8. Harper_Fox says:

    Hi, Chris, and thank you. I’ve got some very nice friends. Hope you enjoy the book x

  9. Well, wasn’t that just a loverly bit of beautiful writing. Definitely going on my to-buy list.

  10. Kathy B says:

    Harper, I am really looking forward to this book (along with your upcoming releases). I’m just bummed it doesn’t come out until the end of the month! Congratulations!

  11. Harper_Fox says:

    Hi, Vannessa. Thank you! That’s really good to hear. Hope it lives up to expectations.

  12. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you, Kathy. I’m looking forward to the release date, too, and I really hope you enjoy the book in due course.

  13. Pearl says:

    Congratulations on your debut with Carina Press! I have yet to read a m/m romance and this book sounds very tempting. The excerpt is beautifully written

  14. Ally Blue says:

    Love the cover, love the blurb and especially love the excerpt! Your writing is gorgeous and I can’t wait to read this book. Major congrats, Harper :D

  15. Harper_Fox says:

    Well, Pearl, I’d be most honoured if you started your m/m romance reading career with Life After Joe, of course! I’m so pleased to be part of the Carina launch. Thank you!

  16. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you, Ally! Yes, I was delighted when I saw the cover. The hard-edged, sensuous yet somehow industrial look – maybe that iced-up glass in the background; perfect for a story set in the depths of a northeast winter – felt just right. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the excerpt. I had so much fun writing Life After Joe, and missed the characters badly when it was finished. Sharing them with readers is a chance for me to be with them again.

  17. Estella says:

    Congrats on your first ever published book!

  18. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you, Estella. It still feels like a miracle – my first thought every day when I wake up :-D

  19. Eve Paludan says:

    I cannot wait for this book. Awesome!

  20. Harper_Fox says:

    Thank you, Eve! Just been admiring your lovely website. Good luck with all your endeavours!

  21. Graeme says:

    Having had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this book, I can confirm that it is a corker! Gritty, intelligent, devastating and hopeful, it is a fantastic read and a wonderful debut! I can’t wait to read more of Harper’s work.

    x

  22. orannia says:

    I’ve just started reading this book and am loving it! Harper – I read your novella (Nine Lights over Edinburgh) in His for the Holidays and fell in love with your writing, which brought me to Life After Joe :)

  23. Harper Fox says:

    Thank you so much, Orannia. I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the book, and I appreciate your taking the time to let me know.

    Best

    Harper x

  24. Robert Brigham says:

    I just read “Life After Joe” for the second time last night – again in one sitting. The first time, unable to stop, I devoured it too quickly. This time, I savored it and enjoyed your writing even more. And alternately cried and rejoiced again even though I knew what was coming. You love and have compassion for your characters, and respect their lives and struggles (no matter how much of a wreck they may be) – and I did too. I only wish hard copy was available. I read your “Edinburgh” story first in the “His for the Holidays” collection, and was promptly hooked. Also bought “Driftwood”, and I’m looking forward to “Salisbury Key”. Though I’m not keen on teen/early 20’s protagonists, I may even get “Midwinter Prince”.

  25. Harper Fox says:

    Hi Robert, thanks not only for reading my book but for reading it twice! I’m properly honoured, and very pleased that you enjoyed it and identified so strongly with my protagonists. I don’t think LAJ will ever make print, sadly, but Driftwood is due for a print release this coming July, which is very exciting – the first time I’ll have seen my work in official hard copy! Thanks for buying the Driftwood e-book, and I do hope Flynn and Tom don’t let you down too badly after Matt and Aaron. ;-D

    Writing such young characters in Midwinter Prince really gave me pause for thought. I felt I had to go about it delicately, whilst still meeting M/M romance demands. Maybe if you do read the book, you’ll let me know to what degree you think I succeeded! Laurie and Sasha were determined to get themselves into existence, and one good thing about starting them so young was that I can turn to my “five or ten years later” sequel and, I hope, develop their storyline thoroughly from there.

    Thanks for your kind and perceptive comments.

    Best
    Harper

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