Review & Interview by PresidentELLA
It was sweet and sexy, and I'm not just talking about the sex scenes. AJ Renee's "Duplicity" challenges the reader to maintain their composure event when the characters can't. When Jamie Lynn puts out an add for a new bartender, she definitely didn't expect the man of her dreams to fill out an application. The unexpectedness of the main characters' relationship mimics everything else in their lives. Jamie Lynn makes her prince charming wait for years before she gives him a chance. Prince Charming (named Jesse) is also surprised with the chance to regain his lost family. With a love story, AJ Renee was able to make me question and redefine love and family, in that subtle way love only knows.
I read most of the "sweet invasions" while on the train, commuting to and from work. I found myself occasionally hiding my ipad screen, but I simply couldn't break myself away from each and every time "Jamie Lynn took all of him. This was where he belonged. She was home (3085)" and I needed to know exactly how it felt. I'm a hopeless romantic, and while I crave something from the movies, I might want something more like from AJ Renee's book. Each interaction between Jamie and Jesse filled me with passion and left me with anticipation. From the actual love scenes where "she cried out, and stars exploded behind his eyes (2131)" to sensual shower scenes where "he washed her hair and body so sweetly her heart squeezed (2170)" you could feel the emotion between this couple. As I read on, it amazed me how much I was looking forward to the next time. As a writer and a human, I just had to ask:
ELLA: There are so many enjoyable, steamy moments in this book. How do you reimagine/re-describe the same moment over and over again, but continue to make it fresh & new?
AJ Renee: Great question! Honestly, I feel like those steamy moments are the hardest to write. The same way in life we have to keep things fresh behind closed doors I need to do the same for my characters. After I write the scene I go back and read it like a reader. I’ve read plenty of scenes in novels where it’s the same thing and I skim right over it. I don’t want that for my readers. I want to pull them in and make them forget where they are. The more flushed they get then I know I was able to hit the spot, pun intended.
Along pure passion was pure love. The beginning of Jamie and Jesse's relationship gets lost in the confusion of secrets. While Jamie doesn't know that Jesse is a twin, we (the reader) as least know he has a brother. It's always interesting feeling like you know more than the characters in the book. So while Jamie is still second-guessing, we "witness the honest-to-God good man he was (1965)" even before she does. We don't need to read "I love you," instead we read "he hugged her tightly, as though he was afraid she would change her mind and leave (2139)" and we start begging Jamie to stay and fall deeper into love.
Yet, we're not allow to be swept fully away. Initially, I thought this was going to be a book about interracial dating, but I was forced to mostly ignore the topic, just like Jamie and Jesse forced the townspeople to accept them. With very little conversation, the lovebirds succeed at illustrating that if something "doesn't matter" it shouldn't matter at all. We get hints of how Jamie and Jesse "deal" with anyone who mentions their skin color, but no conversation stands out as much as that of Jesse addressing his step-daughter, Kayla:
"I'm not going to lie and say that I'm okay with the fact that you want to know if Jamie's lynn's family is ok with the fact that I'm black. I don't expect that kind of bias from you. You deserve better than to think that way, ad so do the people we meet. Do you have a problem that the fact that Jamie Lynn is white? (3201)."
Jesse made me question myself. I wondered how Kayla might feel about having a while step-mom before the book addressed it, and that taught me a great lesson: No one should care about who other people choose to love -- unless you care for a good reason. Jesse's reaction to fast driving also brings about the issue of drunk driving (which is how he lost his wife). Jesse's concern about the welfare of his friends helps show that friends can, sometimes, be the most important family you have. This book did a great job at illustrating that "blood did not make anyone family. Sometimes the strongest and most special families were people who found eachother (3134)". I know what the characters were thinking, but I wanted to know how & why the author, AJ Renee, put this together:
ELLA: Duplicity hints on a variety of social issues; interracial dating, drunk driving, drug abuse, loss and non-traditional family structures. Are those topics you incorporate to create an internal conversation within the reader, or to add to complexity of the character? Do you decide the situation, or the character first?
AJ Renee: Well I guess first you need to know a few things about me. I’m an army brat so prior to marrying my husband I lived in five different places and one was Germany. My husband is white and I’m Puerto Rican. He’s also in the U.S. Air Force and we are about to move for the fourth time in ten years.
We live in a melting pot. It doesn’t matter if you use that to refer to race, social standing, or anything else. No two people walk the same path. When I first wrote Jesse in book one’s first draft he was a white southern man. A friend of mine from high school mentioned how frustrating it was that women always said they wanted a good man, but when he would treat them well he would get pushed aside for a different male. I changed Jesse’s race to honor that friend.
I think we all forget at times that blood doesn’t create a family. There are so many families out there that don’t fit the mold and I don’t think we see it enough in novels. As I write, I think about the character and what events molded them into the person they are today. Every single person, regardless of how long they were in your life, has had some sort of impact on the person you are today. So I would have to say it’s a little bit of both; I'd like to have that reader possibly think about it and to honor all those whose lives don’t fit the mold we see in novels.
"Duplicity" ends with an open ended hopefulness. Jamie and Jesse are pursuing a relationship and Kayla is reunited with her (true) father. I think we know there will be "those days" but we are left with the feeling that it will all be alright anyway. Still, I didn't want to leave St. Fleur so soon. I must say, I was excited to move onto Rocco's story. I love that the incorporation of an excerpt from "No Going Back" provides an introduction to AJ Renee's next story and an excuse to continue holding onto St. Fleur! I also love the idea that even the supporting characters in the current story have a chance of sharing their full story. Expanding on these characters gives the sense that everyone has a story. & It's always reassuring to know that an author you enjoyed has something else on the way!
ELLA: I loved the incorporation of the 1st chapter of your next book and how the characters from different books are intertwined (very Toni Morrison!). When/How do you decide who the next book's main character is going to be?
AJ Renee: Wow… Toni Morrison?! Wow… Okay, back to the question. HA! When I first started this process I had no intention of doing more than the first book. The problem was that as I wrote it I needed to know Lindsey and Marc’s story and so forth and so forth with the others. These characters have become so much more than names on a page to me. I am not a big outliner so as a pantser I really have no idea how certain things are going to go until the words appear on the screen. When I finished Duplicity I really thought I was going to go into Andrew’s story next, but nope. JJ and Rocco decided it was their turn. I remember writing the scene at the end and I had to open a new file and get started on it right away. So to answer your question in a short way, the character decides who is next and I’m just the medium of getting their story out there.
ELLA: Who are some of your favorite authors and/or sources of inspiration?
AJ Renee: I have quite a few favorites. Julie Garwood, Kathleen Brooks, Marie Force, and Margaret Mallory were some of my favorites before I started writing. I can now add HJ Bellus, Carina Adams, and Laura Kaye to my long list.
My inspiration for stories comes from people watching. Every person you walk by has a story. Now what is it? I hope to have a following of readers that will adore my characters as much as I adore the characters of the women above.
ELLA: What is your favorite writing place/location/set up? How do you get most comfortable to write?
AJ Renee: HA! As I do this interview I’m sitting in my hotel room on my husband’s laptop, because mine was sent in, and my two youngest watching Moana on their tablets only three feet behind me.
My favorite spot is wherever I can concentrate long enough to get work done. I usually have my notebook next to me, hot tea or hot chocolate, and my water. I’ve also had to start going into airplane mode so I don’t become distracted by social media.