I’m delighted to welcome HarperImpulse author, D. R. Graham, as we talk about her novel Rank… The book has compelling characters, cowboys and more than a little heart.
What was your favourite scene to write in Rank?
Billy and his brother Cole have a complicated relationship, and I enjoyed writing all of the scenes that show their reluctant loyalty to each other. My ultimate favourite scene in RANK, though, is when Billy and Shae have their first unplanned date. It is so sweet and real. I like how Shae brings out the best in Billy. Here is a sneak peek at how it starts:
I parked facing the fence that surrounded the playground area. Shae-Lynn was sitting on a bench talking to a little boy who looked as if he’d been crying. He nodded at something she said. She held his chin gently and said something else that made him smile. She tousled his hair before he got up and ran over to join some other kids who were lined up to go down the slide. After she watched him for a while, she turned her head and saw me sitting in my truck. Her expression was a mixture of surprise, confusion, and happiness.
I got out and walked over to lean my elbows on the fence. She reached for a pair of crutches resting against the bench behind her, hoisted herself up, and balanced with the crutches under her arms. She was wearing khaki shorts and a white polo shirt that had the logo for the daycare stitched on the chest. She made her way over to me and smiled in a way that made me glad Lee-Anne had sent me to pick her up.
“We discourage strange men from lurking around the outdoor play area,” she said like a teacher.
“I’m here to pick someone up.”
“Do you have some identification? We can’t release the children to just anyone.”
I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and passed her my driver’s licence.
She nodded as she read it. “William Raymond Ryan from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You’re a far way from home, cowboy. What is the nature of your visit? Business or personal?
“Do you have a criminal record?”
Shocked, she looked up at my eyes to check if I was being serious. “For what?”
Her expression shifted as if she just remembered something. “Did they arrest you for assaulting Tawnie’s abusive ex-boyfriend?”
Although I already assumed she would hear about that, I shook my head and pushed my hat back to pretend like I was surprised. “Did Rochelle tell you that?”
“Maybe. Don’t blame her. Tawnie’s the one who blabs everything.”
“I didn’t get arrested for that. He did.”
I could tell she was still curious about what I had been arrested for, but she let it go. “Who gave you permission to do today’s pick up?”
“She was busy. You can call her if you don’t believe me.”
“I just might.” She stared at me for a while and smiled as if she were impressed. “Did you just get a haircut?”
“And is that a new shirt?”
Her eyes scanned down to check the rest of me out. “Nice boots.”
“Thanks. Some girl told me my other ones were ratty.”
“They were.” She smiled, happy that I took her advice again. “Wait here a minute. I have to get my bag.” She turned and pushed off the crutches to make her way over to the door of the daycare. One of the ladies she worked with said something to her and they both looked over in my direction. Shae-Lynn nodded at something that was said and the woman waved at me. I waved back to be friendly. It seemed to embarrass Shae-Lynn. She disappeared inside and came out a different door that led directly into the parking lot.
I rushed over to the passenger side of the truck and opened the door for her. She turned and handed me the crutches. The truck was too high off the ground for her to reach the seat, so I leaned the crutches against the side and lifted her by the waist to help her in. She had to use her arms to pull her legs into the cab one at a time. Once she was settled, I closed the door and laid the crutches in the back.
“Bye Shae!” a little girl shouted and waved from the back seat of her mom’s car.
Shae-Lynn waved back as I hopped behind the wheel. The adoring way she was smiling made her look so beautiful. I was still staring at her when she turned her head to look at me. “What?”
“You seem good at your job.”
She shrugged modestly. “It’s just babysitting. It’s not that hard.”
“You make them feel special. I can tell by the way they look at you.”
Her cheeks turned pink and she stared down at her hands folded in her lap. “Thank you.” She snuck a glance at me. “What are you really doing here?”
“Kidnapping you. You should have followed through on that criminal record check.” I backed the truck out of the parking spot and turned right onto Clark to head to the strip mall…
Rank is classed as a New Adult novel – what do you think the definition of the New Adult romance-subgenre is?
For me, New Adult is only a term used to describe an age category of 18-25 year olds. Even before it was a marketing term used in publishing, I wrote stories with characters transitioning out of youth into the independence of adulthood. The late teens and early twenties are such a pivotal time in a person’s development, and although books with protagonists aged 18-25 years have always existed, only in the last few years someone decided to call that age category and life stage New Adult.
Then someone else decided New Adult meant erotic or 18+, which of course isn’t true. There are New Adult books in all genres — historical, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, horror, etc. Book stores and libraries don’t typically have a section specifically for New Adult, so books with characters aged 18-25 years will usually be shelved in the adult section. In my case, because of the crossover appeal to a Young Adult audience, my books tend to be shelved in both teen and adult sections. As a result, I prefer to say I write cross-over stories about young people in love, transition, or crisis.
Your heroine, Shae-Lynn, is described as “the sweet good-girl-next-door”, but there’s a strength to her which is really impressive. What do you think makes a strong romance heroine?
What makes Shae-Lynn special is her self-assurance. She is grounded in a strong sense of self and values. She’s sweet and sees the good in others, but isn’t a pushover. Very often strong female characters are defined by physical strength and male-like toughness. Although there is nothing wrong with a kickass female character, Shae’s strength is more subtle. She’s unwaveringly patient and quietly determined. She is the perfect person to gentle someone wild like Billy.
Critics often deride romance as being a light and fluffy, but you deal with any number of darker issues in Rank, including the effect that one event can have on a family, and gambling addiction. Why do you think it’s important to address these issues within a romance narrative?
When I’m not writing, I’m a therapist in private practice, so my books always have a slightly edgy psychological angle. I like to explore anything that has a strong emotion tied to it — grief, family conflict, personal struggles, and, of course, love. I don’t actually write true romances that follow the traditional arc. I write love stories, and love isn’t only about a partner. Sometimes it’s about your family, your siblings, your self.
In RANK, the brothers struggle to cope in the aftermath of their father’s traumatic death, which is complicated by the fact that Cole has a mental health condition. Billy’s struggles to be a good man and take care of his family make RANK a New Adult contemporary family drama. Finding out whether Billy can earn the love of someone as special as Shae-Lynn is what makes RANK romantic. And I love having both elements in the books I write.
What’s your current project and what will we be seeing from you next?
My current project is a Young Adult horror titled Hitching. The projects releasing next are a three-book Young Adult Action Romance series titled Brampton Beach (HarperCollins) and a WWII Historical Romance titled Interned.
D.R. Graham is an author for HarperCollins and Entangled Publishing. She worked as a social worker with at-risk youth before becoming a therapist in private practice. The clients she works with are children and teenagers, and her novels deal with issues relevant to young and new adults in love, transition, or crisis. She is also an award winning columnist for the Richmond News. She currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband.