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.