Just Like Heaven
by T.L. Bradford
My love of romance began at a very young age. My much older sister would read tons of trashy paperbacks, then hand them off to me when she was done. Needless to say, I got my sex education early.
I read hetero romance for years. But at some point, they all began to sound like the same story to me. I wanted more diverse characters and storylines that I could not find in those stories. I went through four stages to get where I am now: MF->MFM->MFMM->M/M. Except for a few M/F authors, I primarily am a reader of M/M romance books. Something about the truth and struggle that the characters must endure in LGBTQ stories struck a chord with me. I love the genre and years later find myself still fascinated by their situations and complications.
The authors that have most influenced my writing are S.E. Harmon and Sarina Bowen. S.E. Harmon’s, The Blueprint and A Deeper Blue, are what encouraged me to write my first novel Just Like Heaven. These two books were the ideal M/M romance model in my mind. I love the way they were written.
Both were fast-paced reads with a lot of heart and attention to characterization. Her writing gave the characters real depth. I adored the interplay and witty banter between the two main characters Kelly and Blue. I thought to myself if I were to ever write a book, I would want the same type of snappy dialogue.
Sarina Bowen’s, Him, was the first M/M book I ever read. I was hesitant at first, fearing I may not be able to relate to the material. It turned out to be the best choice that introduced me to the genre. Both Him and Us were emotionally driven novels that stood out from the crowd. They were books that captured the subtle nuances of same-sex relationships that went beyond only the sexual aspect.
It was through randomly watching videos on YouTube that I came up with the idea for my book. It was during Pride month last year and they had a bunch of coming out videos popping up on the homepage. I clicked on a few and was swept away by the heartfelt stories I heard. I became addicted, watching a ton of these videos. In the sidebar was a video with a handsome actor who starred in a very popular European soap opera. An interviewer was asking him how he initially responded when he found out that the show had suddenly changed his straight character to gay. He was very honest in saying that it was a complete shock for him. After all, he had been on the show for almost two years and was set up to be the new heartthrob for all the ladies.
He said he had to do some major soul searching to find the place in him that could authentically portray the character. What sealed the deal was the amazing comradery he had with the actor who would be portraying his partner on the show. It turns out it worked better than anyone expected, and the characters went on to have a long stable relationship. Their success went international. Viewers from all over the world so loved these characters, that they would take only their clips from the show and translate them into multiple languages.
The actors had succeeded in creating a couple that was not singled out for their sexuality. They were given the same storylines and treated like any other heterosexual couple on the show, with the same problems and challenges. It brought a level of acceptance and understanding to an audience that may have never conceived same-sex couples as being just like them.
Though the actors are not a couple in real life, they have a very close friendship to this day. I ran with that idea and changed the circumstances to what would happen if they ever had actual feelings for each other.
Before I began writing Just Like Heaven, I knew I wanted to make a story that had fully developed characters so when the reader put down the book, they would feel like they were leaving close friends that they had known forever. I want anyone who reads the book to be fully invested in the lives and outcomes of this special group of friends.
A lot of times I feel like tender moments are far and few in the genre, so I gravitate to these types of stories. I wanted Noah and Josh’s relationship to be filled with little intimate moments. I made a point of using unique ways for my main characters to have an unspoken communication. They can perceive each other on a whole other level that goes beyond the physical and mental. I loved coming up with ways for them to connect that went beyond the conventional.
Here is some background on the storyline. Just Like Heaven is about two actors who find themselves in the unlikely situation of having to play a couple in a same sex storyline despite the fact they consider themselves “straight.” Their unexpected attraction for each other leads to them blurring the lines between their characters and their real-life friendship. They both struggle with determining the boundaries of their relationship. One of the characters has an issue from his past that ends up creating emotional turmoil for the pair. The overall story deals with the issues of first-time coming out, self-acceptance, PTSD, and fidelity.
Be on the lookout for the use of parallels, repeated language and foreshadowing in the writing. It is deliberate and indicative of the culmination of events coming.
Character development is the most important factor in my stories. In fact, I develop characters before a story exists. I find that understanding my characters inside and out aids me in developing the storyline.
I use the personality traits from those I know in real life. Being more of an introvert myself, I am drawn to my opposite. I tend to surround myself with friends and family that are extreme extroverts. So, I have an endless supply of crazy/dramatic/serious characters to pull from.
Another source of characterization is me. I have an abundance of neurosis. I will use these experiences to comic effect. It’s almost therapeutic for me. In Just Like Heaven, I gave both of my main characters a few of these issues. My favorite has to do with one of the characters’ irrational fear of birds. This is straight out of my own life. The reason why is explained in the book. And yes, my friends think I am insane.
Though both characters internalize some aspects of myself, they are essentially my husband and I, but with a lot of other crazy shit thrown in.
Josh is closer to my husband in that he is idealistic, carefree, insecure and playful. He is also very sensitive and caring. He understands Noah on a level that no one else can understand. Josh leads with his heart and damns the consequences.
Noah is all me. Being aloof at times, neurotic and structured are all qualities I have. Noah has a personal struggle from childhood that develops that we share in common as well. Despite the fact that Noah is flawed and frustrating, I hope readers recognize his humanity as well. I tried to put this character in a variety of situations that shake-up his orderly life, often with hilarious results.
I’ve tried hard to craft a solid, believable story, while still being entertaining. I try to keep my stories moving along with plenty of action and reveals at regular intervals. I will try to cut to the chase whenever possible to eliminate excess chatter. I will save any expanded exposition for pivotal scenes.
I also try to limit the inner dialogue of my main characters. Nothing is more boring to me than when I read a book and more than half of the story took place in the characters head with no real action happening.
I have two projects currently in the works. The first is a novella that follows up on the Just Like Heaven story. It wraps up some loose ends that I hope everyone will enjoy. Shortly after the release of the novella is another full-length story that will focus on the next couple’s pairing that was introduced in the previous books.
The tone of that book will be slightly different but will still include my established characters. I’m looking forward to the topical issues that will come forth and the differing perspectives we see from these characters’ point of view.
About Just Like Heaven
Noah Sinclair is best described as an egotistical, pompous, anal retentive, asshat. And those are his better qualities. Lately, Noah has lost touch with his playboy character “Jace” on the show Americanaand can’t quite put his finger on why. The studio decides it is time to shake up his character by making him an offer he can’t refuse, literally. They will introduce a new love interest for his character “Jace.” Only this time, there’s a twist.
Josh Hill is up a creek and sinking fast. He’s got no job, no money, no credit and is about to be kicked out of his apartment. Opportunity comes in the form of a job offer from the show Americana. Everything should be perfect; only there is one hitch. He will be the new love interest for Noah Sinclair’s character on the beloved show.
So, opposites are supposed to attract, right? Not so fast. No one said life was that easy. Both actors find themselves in untested waters. Will they be able to play a same-sex couple with no prior experience authentically? Well, they say practice makes perfect.
Carefree, fun-loving Josh and uptight, overbearing Noah, realize they need to make the best of their bad situation and are forced to find common ground. Over time, their roles in each other’s lives become blurred. Is their attraction fake, or is it real? To top it off, Noah has a dark skeleton in his closet that can prevent them from ever moving forward.
Can they get on the same page and save both of their careers and their relationship?
Or will they end up yesterday’s tabloid fodder?
Available at: Amazon
An Excerpt from Just Like Heaven
It’s been almost 10 minutes. Five to go. Fuck.
I have no clue what this meeting is about, and I am not in the mood to be dealing with Steph and Genie’s crap today. Some random stagehand just came back here to let me know my attendance was required. I try to think back and wonder if I personally offended anybody yet today. Hmm… Nope. Not today, anyway.
Steph and Genie are the producers for the show I star on called Americana. It’s a newer concept in programming. The show streams daily on Netflix as an evening drama. Small town life under a microscope is the idea. It’s a modern-day spin on a soap opera really, but there is no way on earth I am admitting to working on a soap opera. The show itself is heavily ingrained in social media where the characters have taken on a life all their own. It’s been almost two years now since they cast me, and the show has been live.
I graduated from college several years ago. After that, I spent a couple of years bar tending and serving. With good parts so scarce, I was lucky to get this opportunity. The show has been a ratings winner, and the entire cast is becoming well known.
What drew me to the part was its unique take on the dissection of America and how different communities have changed over time. Our show takes place in America’s heartland. It focuses on the lives and loves of the residents of Greenfield, Indiana.
My character, Jace, is the town barkeeper. He was a great role to play early on because he had a lot of interaction with the main cast. Lately, though, something has changed, and I’m not feeling in touch with the character as much as I once did. It’s showing in my performance, so I’m sure that’s what this meeting is about.
I’ll bet it has to do with me flubbing lines lately. I haven’t been able to focus, and it looks like they have noticed. My part is getting reduced to nothing. Maybe this is the kick in the pants I need to move on. Ash, one of my castmates on the show, mentioned that they are having open auditions for a new show on FOX. Who knows, it may work out for a season or two. The only thing is that FOX has a bad reputation for short-term junky shows.
Maybe they aren’t going to renew my contract. Oh god. I’m being sacked. I can see it now. Gah, I’m already planning my pity party table for one.
I reluctantly get up from my chair, padding out of the room, trying hard not to make eye contact with anyone. I arrive at the end of the hall and hold my hand on the doorknob. “Okay here it goes,” I say to no one in particular.
I enter the room and see Genie and Steph seated across from each other around a large square glass table. Steph is probably in his early 40s,(never can tell for sure in Hollywood), smallish frame with short sandy brown hair, mischievous eyes and a car salesman smile. He is kicking back with his half-eaten Subway sandwich hanging out of his mouth.
Genie looks up to see me. She has her requisite Starbucks Spiced Vanilla Chai Latte and is eating some salad that looks unhealthier than Steph’s meatball sub. “Noah, right on time, per usual.”
“Hey, guys.” I’m hoping to keep good vibes flowing.
Steph says, “Come on in and take a seat. Shut the door behind you.”
Oh boy, that doesn’t sound good. I move toward the desk, taking a chair next to the window, moving it in close next to Genie. The smell of the eggs on her salad is strong. Steph takes a napkin to his lips to wipe the marinara sauce off and starts talking.
“Noah, you’ve been here for over a year, right?”
“Uh, yeah, almost two years next month.”
“So, you’re up for contract negotiations then, right?”
“Yeah, I haven’t talked with my agent about it yet.”
“Well, that is what Genie and I would like to discuss.”
I swear the smell of the eggs is getting stronger. It is permeating the entire atmosphere.
“You know we get the daily stats on the show’s overall performance and having talked; we decided we are going to have to make some changes.”
It’s coming. I feel it. With the show being purely streaming, it is easy for the showrunners to pull up all types of analytics on the show, like what age group is watching, and income bracket. Annoyingly, they can also track what parts of the show are being watched and skipped over. A favorite character will have higher click averages than a third tier one. With my part being scaled back so much, I’m fairly sure my numbers are in the gutter. For sure I’m getting the boot. I start sweating.
Genie jumps in and says, “Your numbers have been pretty consistent, but not growing at the pace we would like to see.” All I can smell now is the nauseating stench of eggs. I am going to puke. Right here. Right now. Right on their fancy $3000 glass table.
Genie looks at me with concern in her eyes. “Are you okay? You don’t look so hot. Would you like a glass of water?” She jumps up from the table to grab me a glass. Her dark hair is nearly falling out of the messy bun at the back of her head.
“Yeah, that would be great.” She comes back and sets the glass down in front of me. I pick it up and drink slowly. My throat is constricted, and I nearly choke. She is still concerned and looks over to Steph. She pushes her black-framed glasses up on her nose and turns back to me.
Sensing my stress, she quickly says, “We are thinking of taking your character into a new direction.”
“A new direction? Okay, what were you guys thinking about?”
Steph says, “We’ve done some marketing research and have found some niches that we think will work well for our show.” He crams in another mouthful of sub.
Ever the tag team, Genie says, “It’s a direction that may be more challenging, but we think given your range that you would best be able to play the role.”
“What’s the direction you were thinking?”
She looks over to Steph, then back at me. “Your character, Jace Alexander will enter into a relationship with a new character, named Max.”
“Max? Well, what is Maxine’s backstory?” I let out a huge breath. They had me there for a minute.
“It’s just Max, not Maxine. Specifically, Max Shephard,” Steph says.
Slowly my head starts to wrap around what they are saying. “So, wait, Max is a guy?”
“Yep,” they say in unison.
“You made him gay?”
“Look, Noah, I know this is a real shock, but think of it this way. You will have a unique storyline, and it will get people back into your character again,” says Steph. “It’s been what, a year now since Jace broke up with Gracie? The character has just been drifting, and we need to get that viewership back.”
“Are you kidding me? How the hell am I supposed to play gay? This is so far out of my league. I—”
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Steph says, finally having put this sub down. “Genie and I had to go to bat for you to keep you on the show. They were ready to cut you. We pulled this idea out that we had a little while ago and they went for it. So basically, you stay on the show on the condition that you accept this storyline. Otherwise, they are releasing you at the end of your contract.”
I sit back in my chair, dumbstruck. I look between the two of them and see there is no way out. I have no words.
Genie says, “I know you feel blindsided and I don’t blame you for being upset but think about this rationally. This is the opportunity you have been waiting for. A chance to stretch your acting skills.”
Then she pulls forward in her chair, she grabs my hand and looks me in the eye. “You don’t have to answer right now. Think about it over the weekend, and we can all talk about it again on Monday.”
I don’t say a word, still unmoving and dazed.
“We have an audition video for the actor we have in mind. Why don’t you take this copy and see if you think you can make this work?”
Wordlessly, I take the flash drive and get up to leave. I go back to my dressing room and finally lose the contents of my stomach.
About T.L. Bradford
T.L. always hated math, so it was a good thing she had a way with words. Since she was a shy and quirky kid; words were her best friends. She would imagine entire worlds in her head and talk to herself endlessly. Her mother wondered if she was speaking with ghosts for a while.
Her older sister was a voracious reader of trashy romance novels and would pass them down to her after she had finished them. T.L. was the only 10-year-old kid sitting in class reading “The Stud” by Jackie Collins during reading time. Oddly enough, she never got called out on it.
As she grew older, her tastes evolved, but one thing held fast; her undying attachment to love stories. One day out of the blue, she decided to write the love stories she always wanted to read instead of searching for her story. Since then, writing has been a dream fulfilled for her and she could not be happier.
She enjoys writing about love, regardless of gender and is a proud supporter of the LGBTQ community.
T.L. calls the Pacific Northwest her home and enjoys the quiet rural life of her little oceanside home with her playful/crazy husband and their giant dog Noah.
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