I am delighted to welcome wonderful and talented author M.Q. Barber to my blog. M.Q. is a sister author with Lyrical Press, and I’m delighted she agreed to stop by to talk about her debut release, Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1. I was lucky enough to receive a sneak peak at the first few chapters when M.Q. was shopping it around, and let me tell you – she hooked me right away. I’ll admit I’ve not read much in the BDSM/erotica subgenre of romance, partly out of being a bit…squeamish. Playing the Game changed my mind and won my heart, however, with its emotional and psychological depth, strong heroine, and two very different yet equally compelling heroes.
She expects dinner with neighbors, but gets sex with a side of safewords.
Mechanical engineer Alice still drools over her sexy neighbors a year after she’s moved in. She can’t decide whether they’re roommates or partners, but either way, they spark a wanton desire in her that has her imagination–and vibrator–working overtime.
Henry, director of everything around him, studies human nature and applies philosophies to his paintings as well as his relationships. Quirky, polite to a fault, and formal, he follows his own code of honor even when it means denying himself.
Flirtatious and playful, Jay needs stability, guidance, and to please others. His antics counterbalance Henry’s stuffy ways while he brings a level of vulnerability and fun to everything the trio does.
BDSM play with the enigmatic artist and flirtatious joker across the hall allows Alice to put aside the linear thought processes which have kept her unsatisfied and distant with other lovers. She must dismiss her preconception of love, sacrificing her independence, if she’s to find a permanent place in their beds and hearts.
CONTENT WARNING: Explicit sex, graphic language, BDSM, bondage, spanking, M/M/F menage.
M.Q., I found your three main characters so compelling, particularly in terms of the way they balance one another within the context of their rather unconventional relationship. Since Alice is your POV character, we’ll start with her. She’s a smart, strong, and very independent woman who winds up becoming a submissive. This seeming contradiction actually works extremely well in your story. How did you reconcile these two opposing facets of her character development?
Thanks, D.B. I’m elated that the character balance works from a reader perspective. The three of them grew together that way; I’m not sure I actively did something so much as they showed me what they needed.
In Alice’s case, it’s been a very long time since she’s had someone taking care of her. She has a strong sense of responsibility to the people in her life, and letting go of control is both difficult and freeing for her. It demands an enormous amount of trust. Submitting to Henry is only possible for Alice because he has demonstrated his trustworthiness in their friendship. He creates a safe space for her to relax.
I think of it like having a public persona and a private one. Alice is the sort of person who wouldn’t break down and sob her heart out at her desk at work if she got bad news, but the second she got home and closed the door behind her to lock out the world, the tears would come. Henry’s shoulders are much nicer than an empty apartment.
In much the same way, submission is an emotional release. It gives her something she doesn’t know she needs in the guise of a game, a challenge that appeals to her competitive drive.
Makes perfect sense. Playful Jay serves as a wonderful foil for Alice. Clearly he has some past issues that have made him uncomfortable with certain aspects of domination play, yet he appears to have near complete trust in Henry. Their relationship is fascinating, particularly as viewed through the lens of Alice, who sometimes feels like an interloper. I LOVE that she struggles with intimacy issues more than their ‘games.’ What is it about Alice that draws Jay or that he needs from her to augment his dynamic with Henry?
Yowtch, you go right for the tough questions. Book two, Crossing the Lines, answers that question in more depth from Alice’s perspective as she learns about Jay’s past, and a separate Henry-and-Jay prequel shows how the two men got together from Henry’s perspective. But let’s see what I can say without spoilers. 😉
Two of the main factors at work are Jay’s primary kink and his playful orientation to the world. I said above that submission for Alice is an outgrowth of her trust in Henry. For Jay, submission is a primary kink, meaning he prefers to submit to his lovers in any sexual encounter.
That’s not to say he doesn’t trust Henry – he does, and with good reason. But it does mean he wants to be told what to do in the bedroom all the time. If he’s attracted to a woman, having Henry tell him how to seduce her makes her even more attractive. Since Henry has a strong voyeurism/exhibitionist streak, Jay is thrilled to play with Alice while Henry directs them. He gets to make two people happy and get laid – it’s a dream job for him.
As for why Alice in particular, the non-spoilery answer is that they both have a playful side. You may have noticed that Henry’s a somewhat serious guy, LOL. He’s loving and indulgent, but he’s a quiet, controlled man and Jay is an energy-filled flirt. Alice is Jay’s partner in crime, the woman who’ll tease him and laugh with him and still understand his need to submit to Henry.
She’s also an example of strength for him, but one that’s accessible because she, too, submits. Alice and Jay complement each other in that way: he sees her bravery in their physical games, and she sees his bravery in emotional contexts (more on that in book two). As you might expect, it’s a balance that Henry works to foster.
Yes, the three of them do work and play very well together. Now, to the enigmatic, intriguing (and flat out sexy as hell) Dom Henry. He is in charge, a true dominant, yet he is also thoughtful and caring while carrying the mantle of alpha male. As with your strong heroine in the role of submissive, these seeming contradictions give Henry so much depth and make him such a compelling character. Was it difficult to balance the alpha-Dom with the thoughtful gentleman?
Henry makes it easy, I think. Is an alpha who spends all of his time blustering and posturing and acting like a spoiled child with broken toys really an alpha, or is he an uncontrolled mess with insecurities he takes out on everyone around him? From Henry’s perspective, there’s a proper time and place for everything, and a man who means to call himself a dominant had better be able to control himself first. If he can’t master his own desires, who is he to say he can master anyone else’s?
When Alice and Jay give him their trust, he in turn gives them the domination they need from him. Neither of them have a kink for substantial humiliation or degradation, which is why you’ll never see Henry ordering them to lick the floor clean or hear him calling them whores or sluts. He studies his submissives carefully; he keeps track of their reactions to various games. He enjoys using his control to deliver an experience of overwhelming pleasure.
Henry is a gentleman because of his upbringing, and he’s a dominant because he prefers to be the chessmaster in his personal relationships. Neither precludes him from being a tender teacher for his subs, especially when their exhausted satisfaction is what he most wishes to see.
I agree! An alpha male can and should also be thoughtful and caring – those traits only enhance his appeal. For me, the best romances are those that incorporate plenty of emotional and psychological intimacy into the hot and steamy scenes. You don’t hold back on the sex scenes, but they are so beautiful and reveal so much about the characters and their motivations. How important is the sex-psychology interplay for you and does it come naturally (or do you have to work hard for it, pun probably intended)?
LOL! It comes first, actually. A sex scene that is only about putting Tab A into Slot B is more boredom than titillation for me. If it doesn’t engage my mind, I skim. So when I write, the sex is a vehicle for those emotional and psychological intimacies that the characters can’t always express in other ways.
It helps that Alice is highly analytical and that Henry’s very talkative. She’s always trying to make sense of her experience, and he’s always trying to coax revelations out of her. Bring the two of them together, and the sexual tension becomes a dance of cognition and recognition. If the sex scenes excite readers on intellectual and emotional levels beyond the physical, then I’ve done justice to the characters.
Any hints of what’s to come in Book 2?
Hints, eh? How’s this: the evolution of their arrangement, confusion over where the lines should be, tension as the emotional strings tighten, a deeper understanding of Jay’s fears, and confessions that change the game.
Sound fun? 🙂
Yes, sounds fun indeed and I cannot wait to read it! How do you balance life and writing (yes, I’m always looking for advice on that!)?
Oh, I’m terrible at giving that sort of advice – you’ve caught me. When I’m writing, I ignore just about everything else around me. The laundry piles up, my husband scrounges for his own dinner, and friends who text with invites get “Can’t. Writing.” as a reply. The characters completely take over my head. I scribble notes during lunch breaks at work and on the back of my grocery list while I’m standing in the checkout line at the store. When the characters are done with me, I take a deep breath and set the house to rights until it’s time for another round in the ring.
Desert island – three must-have books?
Only three? You’re killing me. But you already know the first one I’d pick: The Silence of the Lambs. The literary language, the character complexity, and the symbolism and suspense make it a book I can re-read again and again.
For the same reasons, I’d pick Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Preferably the whole run of the series, if you let the four volumes of the Absolute edition count as one book, but if not, then the Worlds’ End collection. I love the story-within-a-story motif that shows up in those issues. Aside from being an incredible example of art and mythology and fantasy and reality and literature and just humanity in general, the Sandman books were the first comics my then-friend, now-husband loaned me. I might have fallen in love with his book collection before I knew I was in love with him. 😉
After that, well, there are a few hundred books I’d like to bring along. Forced to pick just one, I’d probably choose a childhood favorite. Charlotte’s Web, maybe, or one of the Little House books, or The Secret Garden, or Black Beauty, or Where the Red Fern Grows, or Little Women, or … yeah, it might be better to put all of the books I love in a box and take the first one I pull out in a blind test. Luck of the draw. I might feel less guilty about leaving the others behind then.
The Silence of the Lambs would be tops on my list as well, yes. Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. To learn more about M.Q., please visit her website. Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1 is available now from Amazon, and Barnes&Noble, and iTunes.
Thanks so much for letting me visit, D.B. I’m always happy to babble about Henry, Alice, and Jay. Anyone who wants to keep up with my babbling or ask questions of their own is welcome to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.