…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
Hi! I’m J.A. Rock, and I’m so excited to be on tour this week promoting my new release, THE GRAND BALLAST, a m/m speculative novel about a future where the population is so bored with everything from emotions to technology to art that few people create things or fall in love anymore. The only works of “art” that have relevance are the X-shows—live pornographic performances that often incorporate creative violence.
Bode, the main character, is a dancer who still believes in love and falls for the brilliant but highly unstable Kilroy Ballast. Kilroy, in turn, manipulates Bode into joining his brutal, circus-themed X-show, the Grand Ballast. The story follows both Bode’s twisted relationship with Kilroy and his growing connection with a fellow X-show performer, Valen.
Thanks so much to Boys in Our Books for hosting me today!
In the spirit of THE GRAND BALLAST’s nontraditional romancey-ness, I’m giving away an e-copy of any of my backlist titles that exist in that sort of Is-this-a-romance-novel? gray area. Choose from TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, THE SILVERS, and ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE (co-written with Lisa Henry). More information about each title is available here. Leave a comment and your contact info for a chance to win! A winner will be drawn at random at 11:59 p.m. on July 5th.
Writing Captive Characters
My first time writing a main character in captivity was with Lisa Henry when we did ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE. THE GOOD BOY and BY HIS RULES have characters who are temporarily pressured into dangerous relationships, but in AMT, Ilia spends almost the entire book physically imprisoned in his own apartment. It was an interesting writing experience, working with such a claustrophobic setting and with a character who’s in constant danger from his captor. I’ve returned to that territory in THE GRAND BALLAST, albeit in a slightly different way.
For me, the hardest part of writing about captivity is being aware of how harshly we sometimes judge kidnapped characters who don’t make the “right” choices—the choices that look clear to us as readers or viewers. I definitely yell at the screen when I’m watching movies: “Run while he’s not looking!” “Take his gun!” Because, you know, obviously if I were in those situations, I would just ninja kick my kidnapper and waltz on out of there. /s
But in reality, a victim’s options aren’t clear, and fear is an incredibly powerful barrier to action. I remember a conversation with Lisa Henry about AMT where we were trying to make sure we’d covered all our bases in terms of “Why doesn’t Ilia do this or that to try to get away from Nick?” We didn’t want readers to see Ilia as foolish or weak, but we wanted him to behave realistically. He’s not an action hero. He’s not going to fight—he’d lose. A lot of his reasoning for not fighting or trying to run is that he’s terrified of what would happen if he failed.
The situation in THE GRAND BALLAST is a bit different, since Bode agrees to his own captivity—initially. Kilroy’s not physically confining Bode, but his psychological and emotional hold on Bode is so strong, and Bode’s guilt over his past actions is so pervasive, that Bode tolerates the way Kilroy treats him because he hopes it will earn him forgiveness. It’s not so much what Kilroy does to him physically that scares him. It’s not even that Kilroy uses threats. It’s Kilroy’s ability to use what Bode already fears—that he isn’t worthy of any kind of life but this one—to keep him where he is. The most effective chains, Bode says, are guilt and ghosts.
It’s a challenging balance to strike—creating a character who can be manipulated into complicity without losing a reader’s sympathies. Who still has enough of a desire for freedom that the story doesn’t grow stagnant. But it’s such a rewarding dynamic to play around with. I hope it makes for some interesting reading!
In a future where live sex shows abound to keep a jaded population entertained, dancer Bode Martin falls for the brilliant and unstable Kilroy Ballast, who molds Bode into the star attraction of his erotic circus, the Grand Ballast. Drugged beyond any real feeling, Bode trades freedom and his once considerable pride for an illusion of tenderness—until he inadvertently rescues a young man from a rival show, and together they flee to an eccentric town in the west where love still means something.
Valen’s not an easy man to know, and Bode shed his romantic notions under Kilroy’s brutal employ. Yet their growing bond becomes a strange and dangerous salvation as they attempt to overthrow the shadows of their pasts and wade together through a world of regret, uncertainty, beauty, and terror.
But Kilroy won’t let Bode go so easily. Long ago, Bode was responsible for the loss of something Kilroy held dear, and he still owes Kilroy a debt. As the three men battle toward a tangled destiny, Bode must decide if his love for Valen is worth fighting for—or if he was and always will be a pawn in the story Kilroy Ballast will never stop telling.
J.A. Rock is the author of queer romance and suspense novels, including BY HIS RULES, TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, and, with Lisa Henry, THE GOOD BOY and WHEN ALL THE WORLD SLEEPS. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama and a BA in theater from Case Western Reserve University. J.A. also writes queer fiction and essays under the name Jill Smith. Raised in Ohio and West Virginia, she now lives in Chicago with her dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.