Deep Dive: Rock My Heart
Two of my favorite subjects — rock music and love!
Rock My Heart was a book that sort of came out of left field for me.
After the emotional roller coaster that was the release of Clickbait, I felt lost and unsure of myself when the time came to write another book. I’d been trying to write a sequel to Clickbait, which I mentioned in the last deep dive, but scrapped it when I realized it just wasn’t working — because my heart wasn’t in it.
Honestly, it was a tough time for me. While I loved Clickbait and what I accomplished with it, the fact that it wasn’t as loved by the readers as it was by me was difficult. For a long time after, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep writing anymore.
But then Leslie, my lovely beta reader and editor for Clickbait, gave me the seed of an idea: why don’t you try something else, just to kick-start your creativity again — and what if you wrote rock stars?
At the time, there weren’t a lot of rocker books on the market, and given my love for rock and metal music, it made perfect sense for me to give it a try. Plus, as Leslie said, it would provide me a chance to break away from the sting of Clickbait and try something I wouldn’t normally have written.
That was all it took to convince me. Within an hour or two of brainstorming with Leslie, I had an entire concept for a rock star book all laid out and ready to go and for the first time in months, I was actually excited about writing, which was something I didn’t think would happen again.
I was so excited, in fact, that I wrote the entire book in just five days. Yup, I wrote ninety thousand words in five days, which averaged out to around twenty thousand words per day. It was kind of crazy, and I don’t think I’d ever try something like it again, but at the time I think I needed to do it to prove to myself I still had it in me and that there were still plenty of stories in my head worth telling.
In keeping with my theme of honesty, I’ll share something else about the behind-the-scenes writing life: it isn’t always fun and fulfilling. While most of the time I really love what I do for a living, there are other times and other stories where I feel like I’m just going through the motions — like there’s no spark there, nothing that really grabs my interest as a writer.
That was definitely not the case with Rock My Heart.
I also think it had something to do with how much I loved the concept of the story. It’s pretty rare these days for me to come up with a story seed that really grabs me at my core and won’t let go of my brain until I get it out on paper. Rock My Heart was one of those unicorn story ideas that had my attention from the very beginning and refused to be put back on the shelf.
A large part of the story’s grip on me came from the subject matter. In the book, Blaze, the lead singer of the fictional hard rock band HEX, is dealing with the suicide of his previous boyfriend. It’s a tough subject, and one I wasn’t sure was a good idea to try to tackle in a romance novel — especially since the majority of my books are on the lighter side of the human experience — but it felt crucial to his character and for me as a writer to explore it.
It’s no surprise these days, and it’s so common that it borders on cliché, but many creative people like me have struggled with mental illnesses. Personally, I’m living daily with a cocktail mix of anxiety, depression, and PTSD — and when your career centers around being judged by the content of your work, let me tell you, it makes things difficult at times, especially when a book isn’t received as well as I’d like it to be (are you seeing a running theme here yet?).
While I’ve fortunately never had the experience of living through the suicide of a loved one, I have had the experience of contemplating the act myself. As a kid and teenager, my home life was pretty awful, and I’ve been through some horribly dark stuff over the years as a result of it.
Though I’m obviously in much better shape now, the reality of living through abuse and trauma is that it never really leaves you, no matter how much therapy or support group work you’ve done. It also won’t leave you alone and allow you to blossom into the person you truly are until you’ve dealt with it. As they say, you can run from your demons as much as you want, but they’ll always be at your heels until you face them.
All of that is to say that from time to time I still grapple with the little demons living inside me, and I think that’s true of everyone on earth, so I thought it was important to present that in a character of mine — if for no other reason than I felt like I had something to say through the character.
In a lot of ways, Blaze is me on the page, or at least a projection of an alternate, older version of the man I could’ve become.
The therapy sessions that Blaze sits through in the book, and the eastern mindfulness he practices, are almost directly lifted from my own life. I also drew heavily on inspiration for the therapy scenes from the HBO series The Sopranos, which is one of my favorite parts of the show.
There are so many elements of myself and my interests in the characters and the book at large. I don’t think I’ve ever been as personal in a book as I was in Rock My Heart via Blaze.
But I was personal through Darren as well in different ways. In the book, Darren is at odds with his father, who doesn’t really approve of his life as an artist or of being gay — both of which are things lifted from my own life. I don’t really want to get into the weeds with that, but I don’t think that’s a very unique story either, as sad as that is in this day and age.
Overall, Rock My Heart is probably the most personal book I’ve ever written, though camouflaged in the fast and furious lifestyle of a huge rock band. It was also a risk that paid off and convinced me that there’s room in my career as a romance writer for darker, more serious books along with my trademark light and humorous style.
While not everyone was crazy about it (as is true of all of my work), and while some couldn’t read it due to the subject matter, those who did read it really loved it — and I think they also really got to see a part of me along the way.