[Blog Feature] Interview + Review: From The Ashes by C.M. Valencourt

Hello my lovely followers. ❤
Happy to have you here for this special blog feature today.
I have author C.M. Valencourt as a guest on my blog today and they agreed to an interview.

C.M. Valencourt’s debut work From the Ashes, is an amazing book about grief, loving friends and close connections. Our heroes are going on a roadtrip with a very special purpose.. What it is?
Read below what the author said about and more. Also don’t miss my review at the end of the post.

Happy reading. 🙂 

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Welcome my lovely follower. I have a special guest on my blog today. I beyond excited and I hope you give author C.M. Valencourt a warm and nice welcome. It’s a special occasion because we celebrate the author’s debut work From The Ashes, out now!

Welcome C.M., I’m happy to have you here. 🙂

Hi Mikku! It’s so great to be here! Thank you for having me!

From The Ashes is a book where a roadtrip is one of the major topics. So, obviously my first question is: why did you chose this particular topic?

What fascinates you about roadtrips? Did you write this book in the tradition of Jack Kerouac and his Beatnik movement or was is just something that (simply) lives inside you for a long time? Please tell our readers your motivation. 🙂

Well for one thing, I just love going on road trips. I think they’re a great way to see a lot of things all at once, and they’re generally cheaper than taking a plane, too!

I took a bunch of road trips in college, and they’re a really great way to bond as a group and learn things about yourself and each other. Even just the act of being in an enclosed car with a group for a long time brings things up. In this book specifically, it was a great way to get two people who have a lot of unresolved issues into the same place at once and keep them there. Road trips are a great way to break down walls.

It’s pretty obvious to those who pick up the book and read the first line that it deals with a serious topic: one of the side-characters, Justin, dies and bequeathes his friends a bunch of letters, sending them on a the roadtrip, asking for a special favor.

Where does this idea came from? What is the message behind, what did you wanted to deliver through the book with this tragic loss for those who were close to the side-character?

So I could lie and come up with something much deeper, but I actually got the idea of a road trip to scatter someone’s ashes from a Kia commercial that played before Wonder Woman. The second I saw the commercial, I thought, there’s a romance novel there. So I started outlining, and was able to piece everything together. It’s crazy the different things that inspiration can come from.

In a way, the whole fantasy of this book is getting a second chance to fix something you screwed up—a close friendship, a relationship. Life doesn’t always give those second chances, which is why something so serendipitous and jarring as a childhood friend suddenly dying provides an opportunity to refocus on what really matters.

I also wanted to capture how something so commonplace as a group of Midwesterners taking a trip around the Midwest could be transformed into such a singularly powerful, transformative experience when the innocence and regularity of everyday, small town life is stripped away by something so inconceivable as a twentysomething kid dying before his life really began.

Justin is – in many ways – acting as a leading figure, without being there, actually only present in letters and talks about him. How was it to create and write such a character? What were the difficulties and what was actually pretty easy?

Justin is so interesting, because he seems to be a lot of readers’ favorite character. I love Justin.

Creating Justin was so important, because I think the book doesn’t work right without him. He needs to be a larger than life character for the road trip to work, because devising this road trip isn’t something that most people would think of. I needed to find a character who would think of it, and actually do it, too.

I think the hardest thing to get right was his letters. I actually saved them until the end; they were one of the last things I revised on the book. I felt like, since they were Justin’s voice, they had to be done with care, and since I hadn’t written any dialogue for Justin or gotten into his head, I had to find his voice.

Hunter and Derek have to deal with a lot of unsolved topics from the past; they’ve separated without becoming clean and carry a lot of unsolved feelings and emotions for and with each other.

What helped you creating these characters, their motivation and feelings behind?

I think one thing that helped is that I experienced a “friend breakup” with my best friend from high school, so I sort of understood how traumatizing they can be, how deeply that sort of thing can affect you. It’s so hard to go from best friends to strangers with someone you care about. So I tried to draw on that somewhat, how much animosity there is while still having some lingering feelings.

I also struggled to capture how they were both guilty of destroying the friendship in different ways. I think it would be too easy for readers just to pin it all on Derek and demonize him for being homophobic. Obviously that is a major character flaw he must contend with, but I really wanted to illustrate how at fault Hunter was as well. Hunter tries to emotionally steamroll everyone, and when he doesn’t get his way, he shuts people out. I think balancing these characters and their respective flaws was definitely difficult.

On the other hand, I also really wanted to show how vulnerable each character is. In a sense, they both feel betrayed, by each other, yes, but also by themselves. Hunter’s conflict is largely internal, feeling deeply hurt by Derek’s rejection, while Derek’s is external. Derek’s circumstances prohibit him from living his truth and from loving freely. Both of these conflicts are so universal to the queer experience, and both have been central to my own life. I wanted to make it clear that neither experience was more or less valid. Rather, I wanted to show how both internal and external conflict that young queer people face can leave scars in their own ways, and how we must work to heal both.

Talking about creating characters: how do you start this process? Do you have spreadsheets, pinterest boards/mood boards etc. to visualize them better? How is – in general – your way of working on them and your stories? 🙂

I make character sheets with a bunch of questions that I answered for both Hunter and Derek. I wanted to get to know them before I started writing in their POVs. I also learned about both of them a lot during the first draft. In particular, I didn’t find Derek until about halfway through the first draft. So as much planning as you do, sometimes you have to just write and try to find the characters that way.

You’ve included to one of the stops the Legacy Walk, a famous outdoor public display in Chicago, Illinois. Can you tell us why you included it and what’s the fascinating thing about it?

I lived in Chicago for two years, so all of the Chicago sites in the book are there because I’d been to them myself. When I first saw the Legacy Walk, I found it really powerful, to see memorials for the queer people who came before us. It’s easy to forget that there were people who had an even rougher time than we had so that things can be better. So once I knew that I wanted to send the characters to The Chicago Diner (since it’s honestly my favorite restaurant in the city), I knew they should pay attention to the Legacy Walk markers as well.

I think going to the Legacy Walk and Boystown in general are important to queer people from the Midwest like Hunter and Jaimie because they sort of symbolize a queer sanctuary, a place where you can be safe when a lot of the space around you isn’t as accepting. I think seeing the Legacy Walk showed them how accepting this part of Chicago could be, and really moved them when they realized that the Midwest, and in some sense the world, could be like this.

Loss and Grief, losing something but gaining new things, creating new bonds and making friendships are huge parts of the book. You’ve included poetry, writing, movies and very touching songs by popular bands in the book to express all this when simple words and descriptions aren’t enough.

Is it safe to say that pop culture, its influence on the people, is something pretty important for you and especially for expressing certain topics in the book?

On one hand, I included all of the pop culture references because they’re all things that I enjoy myself. I wanted the book and the characters to feel alive and real, and part of that is about giving them interests and opinions and music tastes that the readers can recognize and relate too. It helps to establish a sort of kinship between character and reader if they also know all of the lyrics to “Call Me Maybe.”

In a broader sense, however, I wanted to illustrate how pop culture is so essential to how we construct identity. For centuries, queer people weren’t allowed to express themselves in the broader culture, so representing queerness in media like poetry and film is essential to open up the cultural canon to diverse voices. At the same time, I think it’s so important to show how queer people, particularly young queer people who come from less than affirming backgrounds share common interests with society as a whole. We all watch movies. We all have an opinion on whether beer is gross or not. We all jam out to the Spice Girls. I think tying pop culture into queer narratives helps to demonstrate just how similar and how connected we all are. Maybe, if we all agree that Kesha is more fun than Coldplay we could understand each other better, and there would be more love and acceptance in the world.

Next to Hunter and Derek we have Jaimie, a nonbinary character who’s using them/they pronouns and Paige, Justin’s girlfriend. During the book we get to know them but not enough I dare to say. Do you have plans to tell us more about them or are their stories already told? (we get hints of their lives in the epilogue :)) How was it to create those characters, especially Jaimie, who’s really unique and is – like Paige – a huge support for Hunter and Derek when both are equally struggling finding answers. Jaimie also suffered a lot and became stronger. What’s your motivation behind creating these two characters? What is the message you want to tell your readers, sharing their stories with them?

Paige and Jaimie we’re an absolute delight to create. I love how Paige is somehow both the devoted girlfriend and by the book mom-friend of the group, as well as a kinda badass, take-no-prisoners friend who will call people on their shit and sneak wine into a public event.

Jaimie was something really special to me. I’m also nonbinary and use they/them pronouns. As you might imagine, I haven’t found too many books where I can see myself represented. Jaimie is that mirror, in a way. When I started writing in this genre, I knew I wanted to do my best to show as many diverse lives as I could manage, and Jaimie is hopefully the first of a very long, colorful series of characters I hope to include in my work.

I would love to say that we have a whole three other books planned that follow Paige and Jaimie through what I am sure are fascinating, emotionally fulfilling, adventurous lives, but alas! From the Ashes was alway planned to be, and will remain a stand alone novel. I absolutely love the response I’ve received from the readers about Paige and Jaimie, and even Justin, but the core of this book is about Hunter and Derek’s story. Of course the “side characters,” if it’s even fair to call them that, are essential to their story, just like everyone we’re close to helps to build our stories in the real world. But just like we can only see our lives from a single point of view, I had to be content with anchoring the novel to Hunter and Derek, regardless of how much I dearly love the other characters. One of my favorite characters, for instance, was Hunter’s sister, Julia, but there was just no way to give her more screen time without changing the whole structure of the book.

Okay, phew, there were a few emotional questions. So let’s have 5 short questions as a breather and to close this interview. Let’s get a bit cozy. 😉

Q1: Who loves to cuddle most? Derek or Hunter? What about Jaimie and Paige (w/ Justin)?

Derek is the cuddler. He spent so many years trying to push his feelings for Hunter away that, now that they are together, he wants to hold Hunter close and never let go.

Out of Jaimie and Paige, Paige is definitely the cuddler. She’ll cuddle with anyone.

Q2: Who’s the best dancer of the small group of four, loves to show off and who’s just swaying on the spot?

Hunter would like everyone to believe that he is the best dancer, but if a sober, clear headed Hunter entered whatever club Other Hunter was in, he would be horrified by his arhythmic, if enthusiastic flailing. I really like the idea of Paige being able to get down with the best of them, but that remains unconfirmed. More on her sick moves as and when we have it.

Q3: The group members have several talents, like Derek is good at making horror movies, but what are their flaws?

At his worst, Hunter is a very “my way or the highway” type of person. He has a very specific vision of what should happen and how the world works, and he doesn’t like to be disappointed, but he’s working on it.

Derek’s biggest issue is his compulsive need for acceptance. He’s willing to give up a lot to feel included, and that got him into trouble when he pulled away from Hunter. Going forward, he’s probably going to struggle with that again a bit, and he needs to work on finding himself.

Paige tends to get wrapped up in caring for everyone else and completely neglecting herself. Part of her story is learning to put on her own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Jaimie’s biggest stumbling block is finding a sense of who they are and what they want. When they had cancer, they kind of stopped thinking of a future. Now that they’re in remission, they’re sort of a blank slate, and they need to start learning about themselves and making plans for the future.

Q4: Who can handle the booze best and who’s a lightweight?

Paige can actually drink people under the table, and Hunter can pound drinks back pretty hard. Jaimie’s a bit of a lightweight; they have one sex on the beach and are gone for the night. Derek gets emotional when he drinks, telling people he loves them and generally being an emotional mess.

Q5: When they were young what dreams did the four have and how close are they to achieve them?

Derek has always wanted to make horror movies. So now he’s the closest he’s ever been, which is exciting for him.

Hunter kind of always wanted to save the world, so once he realized he was gay, working at a LGBTQ youth center was a great way to do that, so he’s doing great.

Jaimie was still in the “when I grow up I wanna be an astronaut” phase when they were diagnosed. So between then and when they went into remission, they sort of stopped thinking about their dreams for things like that. So Jaimie’s whole story is learning what their dreams are now, and to experience as much of life as they can.

Paige wanted to be a vet when she was little, but she didn’t feel comfortable putting the animals down. Now, she wants to be a nurse, and is getting close to that dream as she goes through school.

They also now sort of have a group dream, where they’re a found family and are able to stay close, even with the geographical distance. They want to travel the world together and go on adventures. I think they’ll manage this one very well, and keep the tradition of Justin’s trip alive.

Wow, so, we are at the end of the interview. That’s it. 🙂 Thank you so much for visiting my blog and being here today. It was so much fun. 🙂

Thanks for having me! I loved your questions!
If you want to check out From the Ashes, you can buy it on Amazon or borrow it in Kindle Unlimited!


I hope you’re curious about the book? 😉  I definitely had a blast in doing this interview.  See below further information about From the Ashes, as well as my review. :3 I assure you, you want to get your own copy. 😉


From the Ashes Cover
Title: From The Ashes
Author: C.M. Valencourt
Genre: M/M Romance, Contemporary
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Self-publishing
Lenght: 65.000 words
Cover artist: James @ Go On Write

 

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Blurb

Hunter and Derek are at a fork in the road…

At their friend Justin’s funeral, once-best-friends Derek and Hunter meet again almost four years after their monumental falling out. Hunter kissed Derek, and Derek freaked out and chose a college on the other side of the country.

If they had a choice, both of them would walk away and never see the other again. Except Justin has given them a mission: an epic road trip to scatter his ashes all over the Midwest, complete with cryptic notes, new friends, and a whole lot of sexual tension. Can Derek and Hunter finish Justin’s road trip without ripping each other’s heads—or clothes—off?

iNSTAPROMO (9)


From the AshesFrom the Ashes by C.M. Valencourt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*~~*ARC kindly provided by the author to me in exchange for an honest review *~~*

 


This book was – as the blurb already indicated – an emotional ride. I admit I was also curious how well the roadtrip topic was executed since I read books like Jack Kerouac’s famous On the Road in my study and the topic about going on the road with a special purpose (or none in some cases), having stations and places to go but in the end the trip, combined with all the experiences, is the goal of the journey.

From the Ashes felt exactly like that. It’s a book about loss and grief; about missed chances, about former friendships and what it means to loose your close connections – sometimes willingly, sometimes without being able to stop it.

I admit I was first a bit hesitant about the side characters, Paige and Jamie and how well they all get along, cramped in a car with Hunter and Derek who were both former best friends but started to go seperate ways, after Hunter’s kiss and Derek’s rejection.

I could understand Hunter’s hurt feelings, his opinion about Derek was pretty fixed and he felt betrayed and rejected; like someone who’s not worthy to love. On the other hand, he was in parts a bit too emotional, too unforgiving, and getting to know Derek the reader got these information Hunter didn’t had and it was on both parts heartbreaking.

The two guys are forced to go on a trip together – in memory of their mutual best friend Justin, who died of cancer and asked for a special promise – and have to get along, otherwise hard times are before them. Over the journey they both learn new things about themselves, refresh their feelings for each other, as friends and over the time as something more; the damage is done; both are living with the scars but they connect on a new level and see the value of their (growing and changing) relationship.

I was really and deeply touched by the book, by its topic but also because of the marvelous characters. Hunter and Derek are feeling real, as if you’re reading a journal not a book. But not only these guys are alive; Paige and Jaimie are too, they are so amazing and fleshed out you think you’ve knew them for a long time. Same goes for Justin – he’s the dead guy in the story but he is so vivid and present in the story, you can’t  – literally – ignore him. It’s sad what’s happening to him; you wish you’ve met him, but with the memories all these four people have about him, it’s creating a picture; it also gives the reader insight about the characters.

This work is very unique and special. It has a lots of topics some might not like or can endure; I say if you’re up to those, pick up this book and read it. It’s sad, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s funny, it’s sweet and it’s adorable because of its characters.
This debut work is an A+ work and I can’t wait to read more by the author. 5 out of 5 stars and a wholeheartedly and enthusiastic recommendation.


View all my reviews


Author bio  – C.M. Valencourt

C.M. Valencourt is a new m/m romance author. They started devouring queer fiction when they still had to smuggle it into their parents’ Catholic household, and dreamed of writing books about queer people finding love ever since. They like figure skating, ghost hunting shows, and Carly Rae Jepsen. You can find out more about their books and learn about upcoming releases at cmvalencourt.com.

Author links / get in contact
Website
Facebook
Twitter


Graphics provided  by Signal Boost Promotions

 

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