Please welcome Ash Penn.
What’s your latest release? Tell us about it.
My latest book is called Scarlet Stilettos and is available from Loose Id. It’s a romance between a trans woman and a gay man. Here’s the blurb:
Although Laine Lawson is physically male, she’s spent much of her life expressing the feminine side of her nature. She’s also well-skilled at hiding her romantic feelings for her best friend.
Life’s sweet for waiter and ex-stripper Tony Barton. He’s met a guy who’s everything he wants in a lover, both in and out of bed. Will Thompson isn’t the love of Tony’s life, but he’s fun and doesn’t take their relationship too seriously. At least, not until Will discovers Tony’s best friend isn’t quite as she seems.
When Laine’s ex-boyfriend contacts her about a past she’d sooner forget, and with Will’s jealousy threatening her friendship with Tony, the only thing she can do is run.
Her absence forces Tony into acknowledging his feelings for Laine aren’t entirely platonic. But Laine’s a woman, no matter what lies beneath her skirt. They might have shared one night together when they first met, but that was business. A relationship could never work, even if she hadn’t disappeared.
After Laine makes a major life-changing decision, she returns home to say goodbye. But Tony can’t say goodbye back. He can’t say much at all, not with Will doing the talking for him.
The novel is a follow on from the short story I wrote for my writing group’s anthology a couple of years ago. Trick of the Night is told from the point of view of Tony, a stripper dabbling in prostitution. I needed a first client for him, and Laine is the result.
Scarlet Stilettos carries on about a year where Trick of the Night left off. It details how Tony and Laine go from friends to lovers. It’s a long journey for them, and I wanted to show both characters’ vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. At the time the novel takes place, Tony is in a relationship with Will and Laine is coming to terms with the fact that the man she loves (Tony) will never see her in a romantic light. That changes as the story progresses, but it’s not until Laine goes missing that Tony realises he’s in love with her too, despite their differences. Both characters go through some pretty traumatic times before finally reuniting. I admit I put the pair of them through hell, but I’m hoping the result is a page turner. As the story is about 105k long, there are a lot of digital pages to turn.
What are the challenges and rewards of writing transgender romance?
First of all, when I was looking for transgender erotic romances to see how other authors wrote them, I found that there weren’t that many on the market. I found a few that involved crossing-dressing, which wasn’t really what I was looking for.
Initially, I intended Laine to be a gender-fluid character, but when I started writing her she had other ideas. Her gender is definitely female, but she chooses not to undergo surgery. She doesn’t outright reject her physical body, but she has no desire to be male. The problem is she tends to fall for gay men. Her first serious lover refused to accept her any part of her femininity, and Tony sees her as completely female. I wanted to bring the two characters together because of their love for each other, irrespective of gender. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be possible. I wasn’t sure if there were people out there whose gender and sex didn’t line up, but who could still find acceptance within themselves without hormones or surgery.
The greatest challenge was always being conscious of the ability to offend and obviously wanting to avoid that at all costs. Laine’s head was fairly easy to get into, probably more so than Tony’s.
Many authors write people different from themselves in so many ways. For example, when I started writing gay romance I talked to all my gay male friends for almost six months before I ever submitted a story. And whenever I start a story about a topic I don’t understand, I talk to those who do. How do you conduct your research?
I didn’t do any research into the transgender aspects of this story until after I’d finished writing. And only then did I check out various forums to see if I’d made any glaring errors. I was surprised by how many people don’t go opt for surgery, and that’s how I wrote Laine who has reconciled d her gender to her physical body. There was a reason I did my checks after I’d written the book, mainly because I didn’t want to turn Laine into a checklist, or textbook case. I wanted her to be an individual, and that her feelings and emotion and choices are hers. I didn’t want her (or me) to come across as preachy. And I didn’t want the transgender aspect to be the sole focus of the story.
Generally though, I don’t research people. My characters usually come to me most of the way fully formed so I have a good idea of who they are and what they want right away. The only research I tend to do will be information places, jobs and rules and regulations that sort of thing. Right now I’m researching the NHS (National Health Service) and issues concerning care funding for people with brain injuries.
How long have you been writing, and why did you start?
I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember anyway. I first started writing gay fiction in the early nineties. At the time I read a lot of paranormal and sci-fi, so that’s the kind of thing I wrote. I tend to write more contemporary fiction now, although I have dabbled with vampires. I also have an idea for a new paranormal book I hope to start later this year.
Writing provides a bit of escapism for me. I’ve always had quite an active imagination, and writing is the best way I know to indulge that side of my brain.
Do you have other hobbies or interests that influence your writing? (i.e. cooking, politics, 4-H)
I don’t really have time for other hobbies/interests. Writing takes up the majority of my time. If I did, though, I’d probably use those other interests as excuses not to write when a story gets difficult. I like to walk, just for the exercise aspect if nothing else. Walking helps me think, especially when I get stuck on a certain part of a story. In my case, it’s usually the end that takes a lot of working out. I’ve also been mulling over the idea of taking some painting classes, just to stimulate some other creative areas of my brain.
Where are you published?
I am published with Loose Id and Totally Bound. I have a new story coming out from Totally Bound called Chasing the Dragon, which is on early-release from 4th April and general release from 2nd May.