You know what’s out today? Blank Spaces, that’s what. It’s the first book in Cass Lennox’s Toronto Connections universe, and it’s a contemporary M/M romance that I couldn’t put down!
Take one asexual art galley admin, add one insurance investigator who just wants sex without the complications, mix in a few stolen artworks, and voila: instant tension and a relationship that defies convention.
Blank Spaces, by Cass Lennox
Series: Toronto Connections, Book #1
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: November 14, 2016
I “sat down” with Cass Lennox over the weekend to have a chat about Blank Spaces, asexuality, and how her upcoming Toronto Connections series should really just be an ode to the Best of Canada– like Tim Hortons.
Check out my discussion with Cass and her new release, and don’t forget to pop to the bottom of the email for an awesome giveaway!
Absence is as crucial as presence.
The decision to stop dating has made Vaughn Hargrave’s life infinitely simpler: he has friends, an excellent wardrobe, and a job in the industry he loves. That’s all he really needs, especially since sex isn’t his forte anyway and no one else seems interested in a purely romantic connection. But when a piece is stolen from his art gallery and insurance investigator Jonah Sondern shows up, Vaughn finds himself struggling with that decision.
Jonah wants his men like his coffee: hot, intense, and daily. But Vaughn seems to be the one gay guy in Toronto who doesn’t do hookups, which is all Jonah can offer. No way can Jonah give Vaughn what he really wants, not when Jonah barely understands what love is.
When another painting goes missing, tension ramps up both on and off the clock. Vaughn and Jonah find themselves grappling not just with stolen art, but with their own differences. Because a guy who wants nothing but romance and a guy who wants nothing but sex will never work—right? Not unless they find a way to fill in the spaces between them.
You can purchase Blank Spaces from:
Barnes & Noble
Cass and I chatted over the weekend (as best we could, with a vast ocean separating us!) about the asexual romances we’re desperate to read, writing a Canadian Novel, and non-monogamous relationships in romance.
El: Hey Cass! Thank you so much for stopping by on the blog today. I absolutely loved Blank Spaces. So before we started chatting, I was curious to know what you were most proud of about the book.
Cass: Hi! Thank you so much for having me! I’m super excited to chat with you. And ahhhh hearing love for Blank Spaces always warms the cockles of my heart. The thing I was most proud of about the book was getting into the characters’ headspaces and writing them in a (hopefully) believable and relatable way. I really wanted readers to at least sympathise and understand where both guys were coming from. I think I did that, but perhaps it’s debatable! I’m proud to have tried. Getting Vaughn’s asexuality down was also important, as that’s an underrepresented orientation in the romance genre. It’s also a misunderstood one!
El: Well I thought they were believable! There are so many different ways to define “asexual”, and I know I’ll never find a character (or, really, another human being) whose asexuality matches my own (unless I write them myself! *cough*), but Vaughn is a character that I could still relate to. His experiences, the way he sees himself and the world… that means a lot, knowing there are ace characters that I can connect with.
Is Vaughn’s asexuality based on your own (if you don’t mind me asking)?
Cass: Yeah, a lot of Vaughn’s experience with asexuality is based on my own. I also wrote some of my experiences into Evie’s character (in Finding Your Feet, TC #2) but her asexuality manifests differently to Vaughn’s. Because you’re absolutely right, there are so many ways of being asexual. I think that gives writers a mandate to write as many ace characters as possible – we need more stories! More perspectives, more experiences. (I’m definitely looking forward to reading yours by the way.) That’s something which could be said about the entire LGBTQIA spectrum.
In relation to ace stories, there anything you’d particularly like to see?
El: I think I’d like more asexuality stories were the characters aren’t just “no sexual attraction full-stop”. More gray-ace characters, more sex-positive aces who are happy to have a relationship including sex but don’t experience the attraction themselves. But I’d also like to see less of what I call the “Allo Savior Complex”: that is, when the poor, confused MC has no idea why they’re “broken”, and their allosexual friend swoops in to say, “Oh, you’re asexual! TA DA!” I want to see books with asexual communities, with ace meet-up groups and with asexuals supporting other asexuals.
It’s also weird, though, because romance is often hypersexual… and asexual romances are often scoffed as being “boring” or “unrealistic” because they don’t have sex. Have you noticed that?
Cass: Oh my God, yes. I definitely want to see gray-aces and sex-positive aces. And yeah, I’ve never had an allosexual friend tell me that was what I was – that’s not really common, in my limited experience. Community is SO important. All that said, I think I’d like to see more stories exploring how sex-averse aces navigate relationships. Alternative sexual dynamics aren’t scary! Let’s show them!
Which leads me nicely to: yes, I have noticed that. I mean . . . if you’re a reader who loves the sex scenes, then yeah, okay, a book without much sex isn’t going to rock your boat. But I think a lot of readers read romance for the characters and the emotional connection – there’s a big soft romance category, after all! Fade to black is popular too. The thing is, I think people are so primed to find sex interesting, and are so very used to love being expressed and shown in a sexual way, that anything which diverges from that expectation is seen as . . . well, boring. Or unrealistic. That’s not just a genre expectation, that’s a cultural expectation. I could rant forever about how that expectation doesn’t reflect reality, but I’ll be here forever!
The “unrealistic” label also gets to me because come on. This is romance. There are lots of “realistic” romances, sure, but there are also millionaire cowboys and secret babies. If you can believe a billionaire can fall in love with a penniless waiter within three days of meeting each other, why is a lack of sex unbelievable?
El: Yes, well said! It also frustrates me to see backlash against asexual romances… but that’s a post for another day.
So I was thinking about asexuality and alternative lifestyles, and the way that relationships aren’t always monogamous. One of the things I love about romance is that it allows for such a wide range of relationships to be portrayed… power dynamics and BDSM, same sex pairings, class differences and age differences, and also things like menage and polyamorous. But one of the things I loved about Blank Spaces [SPOILER ALERT] was that it also shows open relationships as totally accepting.
And I think some people were thrown off by that a bit, but I also think it’s a great way to challenge readers to think outside their own concept of “relationship” and “romance”. Do you have any books you’ve read that push the boundaries of what a romance is, or is that something you have/haven’t noticed?
Cass: I totally agree with you there, I love romance for those reasons too. I also love books that bridge genres and push genre boundaries; they can bring some wonderful ideas and variety into reading. I still haven’t read all that’s out there – there’s a lot to get through – and my personal ideas about romance boundaries are now very changed from what they once were, but books which come to mind for me are: Strain by Amelia C Gormley, The Hot Floor by Josephine Myles, Misfits by Garrett Leigh, Straight Shooter by Heidi Belleau, and the Special Delivery series by Heidi Cullinan. A lot of these play with how relationships are formed, how people love each other, how they show that love, how people fall for each other, and how a change in your identity sometimes isn’t a scary thing after all. I’d love more examples though – you have any you want to share?
This makes me think of aromantic partnerships, actually. I’m sitting here puzzling out if it’s possible to have a romance about two people forming a queer partnership together that is explicitly not romantic, but is intimate. I guess it depends on whether you define a romance as about romantic love feelings, or about the beginning of an intimate relationship. Those two things can be very different. That’s probably a whole other post though.
El: Oh, I agree with your book recs completely! And I’ll add For Real by Alexis Hall, because it’s a complete reversal of so many romance tropes. I’m actually struggling to think of books with open relationships that don’t end with monogamy at the end. There was one that came out earlier this year that I was really hopeful would show a positive representation of an open relationship, but it didn’t stay that way.
I’m also curious about the aromantic romances. I think it’s absolutely doable, as long as one of the people in the relationship is alloromantic. We should discuss this further someday!
Okay, I’m going to change the subject because I’m super curious to know about how your writing process works. Are you an outliner, a pantser, or somewhere in between? Did the characters of Vaughn and Jonah come to life easily? I imagine Vaughn was an easy character to write, because you could draw from personal emotions, but maybe I’m wrong.
(I’m absolutely an outliner. No outline = me staring at a blank document for hours, with no idea where to start!)
Cass: Oh, nice inclusion of For Real, I loved that book. And now that you mention it, no, I can’t think of any books with ! (After some thinking) Except for The Letter Z by Marie Sexton.
Okay, I’m totally an outliner too. I need time for the story to brew in my head first, then once I’ve got the rough plot and the characters, I outline it all and see how I can make it work. The first draft is always a bit pants, and I mean that in both senses of the word (we colloquially use “pants” to mean “crap” in the UK! Eg “That is pants.”) so I usually end up having to rework the outline then tweak the overall story. So, uh, both? I also need quiet to write and reflect. I totally get grumpy about noise. Also, I like having some theme or idea informing the overall novel. For Blank Spaces it was the sex/no-sex thing.
Writing Vaughn was easy – and so was writing Jonah! Not that I didn’t have my moments, but I had a really clear idea of who they were as characters and how I wanted them to come across. That’s not always the case though – you said you found outlines helpful. How about characters? Oh man, I love discussing the writing process. It’s so fascinating to hear how other people do it – how does yours work for you?
El: HAHA okay I’m really amused by the slang use of “pants”. But yes I’m the same about noise! I can’t stand ANY interruptions, especially music or TV. Though when I’m reading I can tune out just about anything… wish I could find that focus when it’s time to write.
I almost always start with one character, and a detailed outline. The other characters form to balance out the story, but there’s always one person that resonates from the start. That’s why a lot of what I write is in close third person POV… though sometimes the secondary characters take on a life of their own!
Also, a few books with open relationships: The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz, the Scientific Methods universe by Kris Ripper, and Kinky Sprinkles by L.A. Witt.
[Note: Twitter delivered on many more… check ’em out!]
So other than writing, what are a few things that you’re excited about? (Did you watch the last season of GBBO?)
Cass: I may have tweeted more about GBBO than about books. I love that show. So much sadness about its sale to Channel 4 *heartbroken* I haven’t had time to watch much other TV, though I’d suspend everything to watch season 8 of Drag Race (c’mooooon Netflix).
Other things I’m excited about, in order: 2016 finally being over, season 8 of Drag Race, an upcoming Canadian movie called Closet Monster, a bunch of books in my to-read pile, the food I eat on a day-to-day basis, getting a Starbucks seasonal latte (I take my pleasures where I want), and 2017. I’m really hoping 2017 will be a better year than 2016. *knocks on wood* *clutches rabbit paw* *makes sacrifices to gods* *lights candles* *burns sage* I also love travelling and really want to go somewhere special next year. Haven’t decided where or when yet, but whatever happens, it’ll be after the books are done.
El: Well, I’m just sayin’, I hear New York City is a really nice place to travel to… *innocent*
Okay, obviously I’m ridiculously excited about the rest of the Toronto Connections books. I used to live in Canada, so I’m anticipating the books to be about Tim Hortons, extreme politeness, and milk in bags. Right?
…. No, you say? Curses. Okay, what are the other Toronto Connections books about then?
Cass: Shoot, I knew I’d forgotten something (milk in bags). Heads-up: the other books are quite different to Blank Spaces. In Finding Your Feet we do actually get love for Tim Hortons, and a minor sideplot about an asexual woman, Evie, getting roped into a Pride dance competition with Tyler, a trans guy who’s not exactly on board with the whole thing. It’s a lot fluffier than Blank Spaces, so steel yourselves for a cheesefest. Growing Pains is about two guys going back to their hometown together and realising a lot of home truths about their relationship. It is not fluffy. The Wrong Woman is now about milk in bags. (And two lesbians who through unlikely circumstances have to pretend they’re dating each other, and realise that maybe they’d actually be good together for real – but seriously, bag milk.)
They can all be read as standalone, but fyi, Vaughn and Jonah have small cameos in the other books! This isn’t the last you see of them.
El: GOOD! I think I’d be pretty sad if there was no more Vaughn and Jonah. And I am eagerly looking forward to ALL OF THESE BOOKS, but especially The Wrong Woman, because bag milk is an essential part of Canadianism, right? So it deserves its own book. (But also the lesbians in a fake-relationship, which I will gladly admit is a favorite trope of mine!)
Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with me today, it was a lot of fun! Blank Spaces is one of my favorite books of the year, and I can’t wait for your upcoming books about Tim Hortons, small-town Canada, and bag milk… or, for the Americans: books about queer dance studios and grumpy dance instructors, about going home to the small town you left behind, and a filmmaker in a fake relationship.
Cass: I had a great time chatting with you. We should do it again – we need to have so many more conversations! Thank you for letting me ramble at you ❤
Cass Lennox is a permanent expat who has lived in more countries than she cares to admit to and suffers from a chronic case of wanderlust as a result. She started writing stories at the tender age of eleven, but would be the first to say that the early years are best left forgotten and unread. A great believer in happy endings, she arrived at queer romance via fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and manga, and she can’t believe it took her that long. Her specialties are diverse characters, gooey happy ever afters, and brownies. She’s currently sequestered in a valley in southeast England.
- Blog: casslennox.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/Cass-Lennox-1704635609768647/
- Twitter: twitter.com/CassLennox
To celebrate the release of Blank Spaces, one lucky winner will receive a $15 gift certificate to All Romance Ebooks! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 19, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!