Today we welcome Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz to the Smoocher’s Voice Blog. The final book in the Flesh Cartel series, Promise, is available at Riptide Publishing.
Hello all, and welcome to the Oh Thank God It’s Finally Finished last-episode blog tour for the Flesh Cartel! :) Episode #19 has just released, and thus concludes the serial whose first episode released nearly two years past. We’re so excited to be sharing the boys’ happy endings with you, and to be with you here on this last look at the nearly 400,000 word journey into and then out of the darkness of human trafficking. We’ve done our best to make this tour fun and interesting both for folks who haven’t yet read the books but might be considering doing so, and for folks who’ve already begun (or already finished!) the series. Plus, there’s some very cool prizes up for grabs at the end of the post!
Jodi: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Tell us a little about yourself.
Rachel: Hi, thanks for having us! I’m Rachel, and I’ve been writing m/m for about four years now. Prior to that, I was a ghostwriter, largely in nonfiction, and also a freelance writer for places like the Huffington Post. I was also writing fiction--mostly non-romantic fantasy and psychological thrillers--but so far it’s just manuscripts in a drawer. One day, though . . .
My day job is as the publisher at Riptide Publishing--a job for which my time editing at Avalon and Pearson left me utterly unprepared ;-p But I love it, and I’m very proud of the work Riptide does, and so glad that the acquisitions board there was willing to publish this behemoth serial Heidi and I have done (and no--no special treatment even for the boss; we had to be accepted just like everyone else).
Heidi: Ditto on the thanks! Great to be here at Smoocher’s Voice for our big finale tour. I’m Heidi, Rachel’s cowriter on this massive, insane project. I live in Canada and have been writing M/M since 2011. I wrote my first novel while I was pregnant with my daughter and never stopped! I do a little bit of paranormal, some dystopia and speculative fiction, a bit of romantic comedy, and a lot of New Adult. But Flesh Cartel, I feel, is definitely what I’m known for. Maybe now that it’s done though I can convince the M/M world that I contain multitudes. ;)
Jodi: Are your characters complete fiction, or are they modeled after real people?
Rachel: I can’t speak for Heidi except for the projects we’ve done together, but for me--and also specifically for the Flesh Cartel--characters fall somewhere in between those two options, usually much closer to the “complete fiction” side of the spectrum. They’re only modeled after real people inasmuch as you might see a particular trait or personality type or behavior quirk that you think will fit a given character. Writers are like magpies; we collect shiny things. Unlike magpies, we later assemble those shiny things--a trait from person A, a quirk from person B, a type from person C, etc. etc.--into fresh new characters. So generally we’re building people from scratch, but the building blocks are bits and pieces of things we’ve collected over a lifetime of observing human behavior.
I think the only part of a character that may tend to be modeled more after real people, at least for me, is some percentage of their physicality. Like, I’ll often have an actor or a model or some random dude whose picture I saw on the internet as a physical template for a character. But just because I have someone’s face in my head doesn’t mean that the character moves the same way or sounds the same way or acts the same way or any of that--it just means I might be borrowing a face for my own mental image.
Heidi: Of course, infamously in Flesh Cartel Rachel and I couldn’t agree on our “models” for Mat and Dougie, so it’s definitely a hodgepodge. We had to give the artist model ideas to create the boys’ faces, and ended up with Johnny Rapid + Children of Dune era James Mcavoy for Doug, Andy Whitfield for Mat (though Rachel later recast him in her head as an early-Supernatural Jensen Ackles), and Christian Bale circa American Psycho + Mads Mikkelsen for Nikolai.
Jodi: When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head or is it built progressively?
Heidi: A bit from column A, a bit from column B. Rachel and I definitely had a plan for Flesh Cartel, and that was to write three novel-length books.
Yeah, so that didn’t happen. At all.
Rachel: Ahahahaha yeah. I mean, we had a reasonably clear idea of the beginning and ending of their time in captivity, plus some major milestones along the way. Since this was also an exploration of kink for us, as well as an exploration of human psychology, there were also some particular kinks/scenes we knew we wanted to explore, even if we didn’t necessarily know where they’d fit in. Having those goalposts helped to keep us focused, but also left enough room for the story to evolve organically--and for it to surprise us, which sometimes it very much did. Other times, scenes we were dying to write ended up not fitting into the story at all by the time we got to them. And then some huge elements, like Mat’s entire relationship with Nate, we didn’t see at all from the beginning.
Heidi: When I first pitched the series, I wanted to do a series of episodic shorts about different characters all moving through the Flesh Cartel in different modes. So a story about a new slave, a story about an old one, a story about an auctioneer and a trainer etc., but Rachel thought it would make a more compelling (and complex) narrative if we followed the journey of two specific characters and showed all that psychological change, really explored how they were broken in different ways and also how they recovered. So that’s what we did, and that narrative ended up taking up a lot more time and words than what we’d originally intended. But I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing?
Jodi: What’s the most difficult part of writing your books?
Rachel: For the Flesh Cartel, you might think it was the darkest of the dark scenes, the moments when the boys were at their lowest and most broken. But for me, the toughest moments were actually in Season 5, when the boys are on the road to recovery. Doing right by those moments meant a ton of research on PTSD, human trafficking, and therapeutic moments, but more importantly it meant striking a balance between the forward and backward steps all survivors make in their recoveries while still satisfying the needs of the narrative--in other words, writing scenes that were compelling and satisfying for the reader while remaining true to the needs of the character. And in terms of being in the boys’ heads during Season 5, for me at least, it was actually harder to put myself into the recovery shoes than the victimization shoes, because someone being victimized can shut down and shut out the world, but nobody recovers from an experience like that without taking an active part in their recovery--which means letting all the horrors in and sorting through them and finding ways to cope (or, sometimes, not finding ways to cope, which is even more heartbreaking).
Heidi: For me it was actually the early scenes where Doug and Mat are separated and broken down. Not necessarily because of the darkness of the content, but more because of the pacing. Rachel was pretty insistent that it take a realistically long time to bring Mat and Doug to that brainwashed, manipulated state, and getting into the nitty gritty of that was a long process with a lot of forward and backward steps. It definitely wasn’t as smooth and seamless a process as I wanted it to be as an author, but then, the human mind isn’t smooth and seamless either, so that clean narrative was sacrificed in the name of realism. Hopefully our readers didn’t mind the slightly more bumpy ride!
Jodi: Will you write more about these characters?
Rachel: Honestly I don’t know. I’d kind of love to write, maybe, a holiday coda one day, a few years in the future, where we can see how the boys have all settled into their changed lives. Heidi and I have also bounced around the idea of writing Nikolai and Roger’s story, back when they were both teenagers and Nikolai’s mentor had allowed him to purchase and train his very first slave (Roger). But after spending two years writing these books, I think Heidi and I are both ready for a break from this world and a chance to write other things, at least for a while.
Heidi: I definitely would be up for writing a prequel featuring Roger and Nikolai, since I have this weird curiosity about what kind of man Roger once was, but it would be a story without any kind of catharsis or closure so I’m not sure how it would work. Either way, though, Rachel and I definitely need a break from this series and this universe. In fact, speaking for myself, I’m taking a break from dark subject matter entirely. I’ve got BLISS coming out with Lisa Henry later this month, which is a dystopia with a mind-control theme, but then after that I’m taking some time to write lighter, less emotionally devastating fiction where all the sex is consensual (but kinky and filthy, too.)
Jodi: If readers have not read any of your books, where is a good place to begin?
Rachel: Since I write in so many genres, I think that kind of depends on what you’re in the mood for. If you want something similar to Flesh Cartel, pick up Anchored when it comes out in September (it’s slave fic, though without all the breaking because the MC was born into the world), or Power Play: Resistance, which is very hardcore BDSM that skirts (and some say crosses) the edges of consent. If you like kink but aren’t sure you like heavy kink, then I’d recommend Master Class. It’s a novella so it’s quick, and while the sub is a pain slut, there’s nothing too drastic going on and the emotional connection is key. If you like fantasy, I’d say to start with Counterpoint --it’s traditional high fantasy with unique worldbuilding that shares equal page time with the romance. If you like fluffy contemporaries, I’ve . . . got nothin ;-p But look out for the Burnt Toast B&B, part of the upcoming Bluewater Bay multi-author series, that I’m co-writing with Heidi Belleau. It is an actual lighthearted fluffy romance, with gentle humor and zero violence of any kind, consensual or otherwise. (IKR? I can hardly believe it either.)
Heidi: Hmm, like Rachel, that depends! If you’re looking for something like Flesh Cartel, I think you’ll like my co-authored works with Lisa Henry: both King of Dublin and Bliss, which are out with Riptide. If you prefer lighter contemporary, then my Rear Entrance Video series.
Jodi: What is your next project?
Rachel: I have an edited, expanded reprint of Anchored: Belonging coming out this September. It’s a modern-day slave AU, and been out of print for about a year now (it went down with Noble Romance), and I’m super excited to have had a chance to edit the heck out of it and bring it back. After that is the Burnt Toast B&B with Heidi, which is a total deviation from my usual stuff but something I’ve really enjoyed writing. It’s been a huge challenge for me, though, so thank god for my brilliant co-writer carrying my fat ass on that project. *clings to Heidi* After that? I’m not sure yet. I have a lot of started mss that I haven’t had time to look at because of the time demands of Flesh Cartel, and I’m sure one of them will grab me when I have the chance.
Heidi: Well, like I said above I’ve got Bliss with Lisa Henry coming out later this month. Then it’s Burnt Toast B&B, with Rachel--which yes, is as light as she says. It’s funny and sweet and a small town contemporary, and just what I needed to detox from Flesh Cartel.
Thank you all again so much for sharing the experience of the Flesh Cartel with us, and for being a part of our farewell tour. Thanks also to our host for having us!
If you follow/have been following the tour, you’ll see that one of our tour stops features art by the exceptionally talented Ariaa (y-gallery link). As a special treat for one lucky commenter on our tour, we’re commissioning one more Flesh Cartel-themed image from them . . . and the blog tour grand prize winner gets to pick the scene of their choice! So if you have a favourite scene from the series that you’d like to see brought to life in gorgeous art, now’s your chance! The lucky winner will also receive a $25 gift certificate to Riptide Publishing.
Haven’t read the series yet? We’re also giving away a copy of the first season to five lucky commenters! That’s six fantastic prizes in total! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on any stop on the tour. Each comment (up to one per tour stop) counts as its own entry, so the more you comment, the more chances you have to win.
Rachel Haimowitz is an M/M erotic romance author and the Publisher of Riptide Publishing. She's also a sadist with a pesky conscience, shamelessly silly, and quite proudly pervish. Fortunately, all those things make writing a lot more fun for her . . . if not so much for her characters.
When she's not writing about hot guys getting it on (or just plain getting it; her characters rarely escape a story unscathed), she loves to read, hike, camp, sing, perform in community theater, and glue captions to cats. She also has a particular fondness for her very needy dog, her even needier cat, and shouting at kids to get off her lawn.
Connect with Rachel:
Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in the rugged oil-patch frontier of Northern BC with her husband, an Irish ex-pat whose long work hours in the trades leave her plenty of quiet time to write.
She has a degree in history from Simon Fraser University with a concentration in British and Irish studies; much of her work centred on popular culture, oral folklore, and sexuality, but she was known to perplex her professors with unironic papers on the historical roots of modern romance novel tropes. (Ask her about Highlanders!)
When not writing, you might catch her trying to explain British television to her newborn daughter or standing in line at the local coffee shop, waiting on her caramel macchiato.
Connect with Heidi:
With the help of the FBI, Mat Carmichael has let himself be re-taken by the Flesh Cartel. Objective? Rescue his brother, exact revenge, and destroy the entire organization from the inside.
FBI Special Agent Nate Johnson will be playing backup, of course, but to get Dougie out alive, Mat will need to make sure his brother is out of Allen’s clutches before calling in the troops. Now that Mat’s back in bondage, though, there’s no way he can do it alone. He’ll have to ask for help from the only man within the Cartel who cares about Dougie’s welfare: Nikolai. And even knowing it will destroy him, Nikolai delivers.
Bringing down the Cartel should have been the hardest part, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the real challenge has only just begun. Dougie doesn’t know how to be free anymore, and Mat is forced to admit that he may no longer be strong enough to help himself, let alone his brother. But with loved ones in their corner and their love for each other banked but not extinguished, Mat and Dougie learn that you come home again, no matter how desperate the circumstances you’ve left behind.