In the stormy coastal woods of the Pacific Northwest, roots run deep and passions run wild.
Reeling with grief after the mysterious massacre of his wealthy family, moody New York photographer James Worthington Crane decides to take his downward spiral somewhere far away: to the rural Oregon Coast, where he’s just inherited a random piece of property hidden somewhere in the woods upriver.
But when James pulls into the decaying seaside town of Brooks, everyone thinks he’s someone else—an elusive local outlaw named Beau. Now James must fight through his grief to unravel a tangled web of family secrets and forgotten history...with help from a soft-spoken local hunk named Hunter Quaid.
Hunter’s been on his own since he left his fundamentalist family at the age of fifteen. It’s taken years of hard work to build the steady life he has now, fixing up seaside houses while living alone in a trailer by the river. Then James blows in like a winter storm, disturbing the peace and stirring up a hunger like nothing he's ever felt.
As Hunter helps James search for the truth, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways—and they begin to discover what it means to find out where you really belong.
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Cover Artist: Sneaky T
Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Romantic Mystery, M/M Gothic Romance
Trope/s: Instant attraction, Hurt comfort, Tortured protagonist, Family secret,
Long lost relative, Country boy/City boy, Rural romance, Fish out of water
Themes: Healing, Found family, Redemption, Heritage, Belonging, Homecoming
Heat Rating: 3 - 4 flames
Length: 71 370 words /204 pages
It is a standalone book.
Buy Links - Available on Kindle Unlimited
Q: Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I’ve ghostwritten memoirs for D-list celebrities you’ve definitely heard of.
Q: What’s your favorite scene in your latest book and what makes it a fave?
Please share a short excerpt from the scene with us.
My real favorites would be spoilers! But a minor favorite would be the very first scene, when James arrives in Brooks. It sets the mood, but more than that, the landscape of Brooks is based on a few different seaside towns I’ve loved in my life, and I never get tired of that atmosphere.
It was the first of November and trees were supposed to be bare, but apparently that meant nothing to the towering evergreens that ruled the Pacific Northwest. From the moment James landed in Portland, their presence was constant. Tall, dark firs covered the hills around the airport and loomed over the highway to the coast. For nearly three hours he drove through what felt like one never-ending forest.
It was just after five p.m. when he reached the busted little seaside town of Brooks, Oregon, population 1,472. It was dramatically situated on a steep, rocky hillside at the ocean’s edge, with a low stone sea wall spanning the length of the town. James pulled his rental car into a row of slanted parking spaces set along the wall, then got out and stretched his shoulders, examining his new surroundings with a tired grimace.
The sun had just set, blue light settling into the green and gray landscape. Waves exploded steadily against the black basalt cliffs below the sea wall, spraying white foam high above street level. Across the road, facing the sea, was a quaint strip of touristy shops and eateries that had seen better days. Behind them the town climbed up the rugged hillside, houses stacked in rows like a tee-tottering church choir.
James needed a room and a bottle of liquor. He locked the car and waited for a log truck to thunder past before he crossed the road and stepped into Brooks.
Q: If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?
I would love to go fishing with Hunter and talk about salmon and punk rock all day. He’s such a sweet, chill dude!
Q: Let’s take off your author cap and put on your reader cap for a moment: what do you look for in a book, what sort of protagonists do you love, and do you have a favorite genre?
I’m drawn to gothic vibes. I like intriguing, vivid settings and outsider types with complex personalities. I prefer a protagonist with a strong sense of self who’s sort of cool—not to say I don’t love them messy and anguished (I DO), but I’m totally turned off by dramatic or demanding behavior. I like a lot of tension and yearning and secret miserable angst, but it’s not really required. When I’m not reading romance, I read a lot of literary fiction and classic horror, along vintage paperbacks and ghost story collections I scavenge at estate sales.
Q: What books and authors would you say influenced you to become a writer?
I wanted to be a writer before I could read, so I’m not sure how that happened. But growing up, it was a combination of Judy Blume, Stephen King, ghost story collections, and the racy paperbacks my great grandma kept stashed on a bookshelf in her attic bedroom. Later it was all Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson, then the usual rock ‘n’ roll poetry icons like William Blake and Arthur Rimbaud. The novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and the work of Mary Gaitskill had a big impact on me in my twenties. Grandma’s paperbacks are still goals for me, though.
Q: What are your least and most favorite things about being an author?
My favorite thing is when the characters start making their own decisions and the world comes to life on its own. It’s the closest thing to sorcery I can think of. My least favorite thing is when I realize whatever story I’m working on is worthless, I have no talent, and everyone’s going to be furious at me for wasting their time with my garbage drafts and my delusions of being a writer. But that’s normal, I think.
Q: What’s the best piece of writing/author advice you’ve ever received that you’d pass on to someone just getting started in the business?
I once went to see the author Lorrie Moore give a reading at NYU. During the Q&A, a student asked how long it took her to start making a living with her writing. Moore replied that she has always had, at minimum, a part-time job to make ends meet. Then she said, “Most writers have other income sources they don’t like to talk about. Don’t expect your writing to support you, because it probably won’t. Instead you need to figure out what you’re willing to do to support your writing.” That transparency meant a lot to me as a working-class writer who still hadn’t quite figured out that all the cool young writers I was networking with—the ones side-eying me for ghostwriting for money—had parents paying their tuition and rent! Moore’s advice taught me to be more realistic and forgiving of myself when money or mental health get in the way of my goals. We have to respect our creative journeys for what they are and be proud of ourselves for doing what we can do.
Q: What’s the one genre/sub-genre you haven’t written yet, but would love to? What’s kept you from it so far?
Horror romance. Like a full-on terrifying gothic horror romance. The only thing keeping me from it is time at this point. It’ll happen.
Q: Let’s talk tropes: do you have a few favorites that you enjoy both writing and reading? If so, what are they and what makes them your favorites?
I love fish out of water stories, both reading them and writing them. Part of it is my love of that classic gothic romance set-up where a character is flung into an exotically unfamiliar setting. The other part is that I just love seeing an interesting place through the eyes of a curious character. I also adore enemies-to-lovers, but have yet to read one that truly speaks to me. Send any recs my way, please!
Q: If you could choose one of your books to be adapted for the silver screen, which would you choose? Why do you think it would translate well to film?
In Strange Woods! I think the vibes and visuals would carry the film, and Hollywood in general is totally sleeping on the Pacific Northwest. But honestly, Merrick would be an easier script to adapt.
Q: What’s the one book you’ve read in your lifetime that you wish you’d written? Why did this particular book leave such a lasting impact on you?
There are so many, but most recently it’s The Seas by Samantha Hunt. I think if you’ve read my work and you read that book, you’d believe that I absolutely idolize it. It’s so spooky and evocative, the atmosphere is so rich, the story is beautifully bananas, it’s sexy like a weird fairy tale while still being just grounded enough to feel real, and it has this rich, uncanny atmosphere. And yet the prose is so unpretentious and natural, you feel like she must have just casually sung the whole thing one afternoon while taking a bath. I think I was three pages in when I started howling to my partner that I wished I’d written it.
Q: If I were to interview your main characters, what would they say about you?
James: Not that I don’t find it interesting, but I cannot sit through another drunken monologue on Chinook salmon.
Hunter: I think she might listen to more Nirvana than I do.
Beau: If she wants to live in the woods so bad, why doesn’t she just live in the woods? It’s not that hard.
I’m not sure if this is a me thing, or how the book was meant to be read, however it felt like a cosy mystery to me. Or read that way anyway. It had great atmosphere. I could really feel as if I was standing in a large forest, thought I have so maybe that helped but really isn’t that the point all things considering.
It was an insta-love and not. It was really cute and sweet and lovely, and the mystery side of things was more about reconnection and working though grief. It was real and lovely and just something a lot more like a warm blanket then I was expecting which was probably my own fault to begin with.
Hunter pulled his truck into one of the slanted parking spaces along the Brooks sea wall and turned off the ignition, cutting off Bobbie Gentry in the middle of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ to let the roar of the waves take over. It was windy out, and he took a second to rake his dark-blond hair into a stubby ponytail at the nape of his neck before getting out of the truck.
His work boots hit the asphalt with a heavy thud, and he strolled over to the rustic stone barricade to look out at the dark ocean. A wave immediately exploded up in front of him, white foam fanning out and dissolving like a burst of fireworks, and he filled his lungs with the sharp, salty air. It never got old, no matter how many times he came here. None of it did, though. Not the trees, the rivers, the sunsets, the storms. This rugged little chunk of the coast had been his most consistent, and sometimes his only, source of joy since the first summer his parents dropped him off at his grandma’s place upriver, where he now lived alone.
Today had been long as hell, but satisfying. He was in the middle of renovating a beautiful midcentury house on Cedar Crest, a wooded cliffside high up on the north edge of town. It was the biggest project he’d ever landed since striking out on his own as a contractor, and it was turning out to be a dream come true. The owner was some Portland banker who didn’t give a shit what he did as long as he stayed within budget, and Hunter relished the freedom to make actual design choices.
Matter of fact, life was pretty good these days, wasn’t it? Business was good, anyway, and that was a lot. Yeah. Steady work with nobody telling him what to do, a place to sleep by the river, all the ocean air he wanted every day…what more could he ask for? There was a time when he wouldn’t have dared to dream so-
A car alarm went off suddenly, jarring him from his thoughts, and he turned his head. Several seagulls were scattering noisily from the sea wall near a black hatchback several spaces away, its horn blasting and lights flashing. He couldn’t see what had set it off. A nosy gull, maybe, or the splash of a wave. At any rate, that wrapped up his relaxing after-work sit by the ocean.
But just as he was about to turn back to his truck, the driver’s side door of the hatchback clunked open and slowly creaked ajar.
Hunter watched, intrigued, as a hand slipped out through the crack, followed by an arm, and then a mop of wavy dark hair. Then, to his amazement, an entire tall, slim man slid out onto the pavement, pooling there in a tangle of long limbs and dark clothing.
The alarm was still making a ruckus. The man groaned low and rolled to his side, wrestling with himself for a moment before yanking a key fob out of his back pocket. He jabbed it toward the car several times until the alarm stopped, then fell on his back with an unintelligible mutter. Just then, a big wave spouted over the wall and showered him with seawater.
Hunter winced sympathetically. Hell of a place to be drunk off your ass. Dude definitely wasn’t from around here. He looked about Hunter’s age, stylish in a cool, classic kind of way. Black jeans, black boots, battered brown leather jacket. Nothing flashy, but obviously outside the local dress code of Carhartts, hooded sweatshirts, and rain gear. Hunter couldn’t help admiring the long lines of the stranger’s body, his carelessly tousled hair.
With a shake of his head and a soft sigh, he turned his gaze back toward the ocean again. Life was good, and all. He loved it here. So what if it wasn’t overflowing with romantic options for a quiet gay man with a taste for tall, slim guys dressed like drifters from the 1960s? No one got to have it all.
Life is good, he told himself stubbornly. Life is fine. Life’s going just great.
The sound of an approaching engine made him glance back over his shoulder, and suddenly he sprang into motion before he could think.
The drunk man was staggering onto the highway, his dark silhouette backlit by the high beams of a log truck that was roaring around the bend.
Another half-second would have been too late. The driver didn’t even seem to see them. The air from the passing truck threw him off balance as he yanked the drunken dumbass out of the road, and they both fell back on the pavement.
“You okay?” Hunter asked breathlessly.
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Claire Cray writes gay romance featuring hot, complicated men in weird situations. Offbeat and character-driven with a gothic bent, her work has been described as deeply atmospheric and a little bit strange.
Born and raised in the rural Pacific Northwest, Claire takes inspiration from its rich, moody vibes: the ancient forests, rugged coastlines, eccentric characters, and whispers of dark mystery in even the tiniest little towns. Combine all that with steamy sensuality and psychological drama, and you've got a story by Claire Cray.