It’s day three in our celebrations for the upcoming release of Lickety Split by Damon Suede. Today we go behind the scenes and discover Farm WORK: building Hixville and the Hastle farm for Lickety Split. Go check out today’s post and don’t forget to enter the not to be missed giveaway and pop back tomorrow for another post from the lovely and very charming Damon Suede.
Farm WORK: building Hixville and the Hastle farm for Lickety Split
by Damon Suede
Again, I want to offer so many thanks to Sinfully for hosting a whole week celebrating the release of Lickety Split on the 13th of March. I’m seriously grateful and excited to be here to share these extras.
Today, I thought I’d take y’all behind the scenes of the writing process with a tour of the farm at the book’s center and the small East Texas town where it’s located.
When I first decided I wanted to tackle a cowboy romance, my first thought was of my family’s ranch in Texas. We didn’t live out there, but I spent a large percentage of my time out there growing up until puberty especially. I knew a fair amount about the way rural farms and ranches operate. Of course, for the purposes of the story, I wanted Patch to come from someplace more remote, muggy, and grim, so I needed a county without access to a big city. The rural areas outside Houston were too suburban and increasingly gentrified. I wanted farm country.
My mother was born in Beaumont and I have a lot of relatives in that part of East Texas. I’ve been to rodeos and auctions out there, and it was close enough to the gulf and the Louisiana state line to make for sweltering small town setup. LOL I combed Texas for an appropriately racy county name the right distance from Houston: Hardin County basically popped off the map. I mean, seriously? Hardin County, for a gay erotic romance? Plus, that’s Big Thicket country, pine forests and flat, clay-heavy soil. Perfect! So Patch grew up in Hardin Country, somewhere North of Beaumont and South of Nacogdoches. I pulled up maps and went hunting for a deserted stretch of county road where a tiny town and a hardscrabble rural community would fit, so it’d be at least 45 minutes from a bigger town and more citified “civilization.”
To my joy I discovered towns called Honey Island to the North and Sour Lake to the south. You can’t make that stuff up! So deep Texas. With the zipcode, I was able to track sunrise/moonrise times, crop cycles, and weather patterns. Now that I knew the area, I looked for the basic requirements of a small rural town: gas, churches, burgers, and (without question) a likely site for a catchall feed store. In tiny communities, a feed & seed store often ends up selling hardware, food, and all the other necessaries until it becomes the town’s crossroads. I just needed someone to run it, who would stick around a tightknit community and act as the glue. That’s how Janet became such a major player in the story’s action: a retired teacher who runs the Feed & Seed with her husband.
Now… Janet in the book is directly inspired by and named for an actual romance fan (and friend) named Janet Rodman who I love dearly and hang out with regularly all over Romancelandia. Going in to the initial rough draft process, I knew that Patch needed one solid ally who’d helped him survive and escape his small town hell, and I suspected that out there in Big Thicket it would have been a teacher. The real Janet Rodman was a lifelong educator (in NY not TX) and is a sassy, savvy provocateur everywhere she goes, besides being an all-around fabulous human being.
I told Janet I wanted to use her as a secondary character in a book, and she said, “Yeah, but only if it’s fucking dirty!” LOLOL Well, I took her at her word; I just turned her into a Texan, but she is a wise, wacky, wicked broad in real life, and the literal saving of Patch in the book more than once. Well, Janet’s from Long Island, and when I take the train out to visit the Long Island RWA with my friend Lyla Bellatas or Book Obsessed Chicks, I pass through a town out there called Hicksville. The name was too perfect, so I immediately decided Patch was from Hixville in Hardin County, TX. I elected to create the perfect little town right smack where I needed it to be, between Sour Lake and Honey Island, on the edge of Big Thicket, in Hardin County.
Going over the actual map of that undeveloped corner of Hardin County, I found the funniest, most Texas street names I could (Gumsapp Road, Bear Creek Drive, etc) and those became the sites of the important locations: the Hixville Feed & Seed, Ms. Landry the lawyer, the high school, even the farmstand where locals sell vegetables…as well as routes to small towns nearby. Even Slick Dick’s, the jukejoint in the book, is based on a similar, rural, comfort-food hotspot about 25 miles from our ranch that we visit every time I visit my family. Getting that specific may sound nuts, but building a map helps me maintain continuity and also saves my editor’s sanity when she’s making sure that trips and character travel paths make sense.
That area of East Texas is really too scrubby for ranching or crops. The Big Thicket is known for dense pine woods and oil refineries, out where the soil is dense and clay heavy and the water table sits near the surface. That’s why the Hastle family raised hay rather than crops or cattle…but even that made sense. Hay operations are all about backbreaking labor and waiting. I loved that as a contrast to Patch’s hurry-up-and-hustle mentality: a farm where the whole business was working your ass off waiting for grass to grow? His worst nightmare. LOL
I wanted the potential sale price (aka Patch’s theoretical windfall) to fall just over a million dollars, large enough to transform his life but not a silver-spoon windfall, so I researched acreage costs and settled on a size of 873 acres. At one point I calculated the full value of a barn full of stored hay, accounting for mold and vermin. LOL Hell I even figured out what breed of grass the Hastles grew and how much they charged for 2-string and 3-string bales. Thing is, I needed to know those dollar amounts. If characters are worried about money and thinking of selling the farm, those numbers become major plot points. Because I’m a nut, I spent a week researching balers and tedders and grass diseases before I was able to build the actual farm Patch fled and now wants to sell.
As I spiraled in on the fictitious farm, I invented Terrapin Road, because I wanted Patch to run away from something slow…so a road named after a marsh turtle seemed right. LOL I made sure the farm was the right distance away from Kountze, Honey Island, and Beaumont and mapped out routes. Then I figured out the operations of the farm itself, first the hay operation: the field rotation, the access road, the delivery points, the storage. Which told me how the work happened, and how much Tucker would have been able (and unable) to do solo while taking care of things.
And then I tightened in on the barns and work buildings, the main house, Tucker’s trailer and the pond. I figured out the square footages and layouts of the houses and trailer. The links between private and public roads, the placement of that old tumbledown cemetery. Once I’d put Tucker’s trailer out on the back twenty on the other side of the pond, I realized the henhouses would’ve been something repurposed and sketchy, like rusted-out horse trailers. Ding ding ding!
I also started thinking about the animals still out there on the farm. It wasn’t a ranch or a produce farm, but folks in the country keep critters for companionship and foodstuffs as much as anything; even Tucker’s work horse was an old friend. Nugget is 100% real. She was my beloved horse growing up: a beautiful chestnut quarterhorse with a white blaze, gentle and smart. She’d been trained to cut cattle and you could turn her like a knife. Once I hit puberty I started doing a lot of theatre professionally which kept me in the city at rehearsals, so I didn’t get to ride as much...so I think I associate time on horseback with either hard work, or being young enough that your job isn’t a factor. To me Nugget always reminds me of the best parts of living and working in the country.
Actually, Botchy the scarred pitbull is another real critter who snuck onto the page; the real Botchy is a workdog out at our ranch and I love her to bits. She got her name from our vet because her awful first owners botched the initial treatment of her scars. She really was scarred by dogfighting and she really does climb up on the roof if you let her. Best damn pitbull I’ve ever met and every bit as sweet and smart and bananas as she is in the book. I guess I’m very much an animal person. We always had pets, large and small, normal and ab-, when I was growing up. So I guess that critter affection leaked onto the page as well. Originally she turned up so Tucker wouldn’t be alone out there, but she became a MAJOR character and changes the course of the book.
To be honest, I don’t think I could have written this book without building the farm at its center and knowing how it ran and who populated the area around it. So much of Patch and Tucker’s love story gets tangled with the land and the surrounding community, no way could I give it short shrift. Looking back, it’s almost like the Hastle Farm was just waiting out there in Big Thicket for me to come find it.
The characters told me where and what and how that farm ran so the farm could tell its story, lickety-split. :)
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Due for Release ~ 13th March 2017
Genre ~ Contemporary BDSM Gay Romance
Lickety Split: Love won’t wait.
Patch Hastle grew up in a hurry, ditching East Texas for NYC to make his name as a DJ and model without ever looking back. When his parents die unexpectedly, he heads home to unload the family farm ASAP and skedaddle. Except the will left Patch’s worst enemy in charge: his father’s handsome best friend who made his high school years hell.
Tucker Biggs is going nowhere. Twenty years past his rodeo days, he’s put down roots as the caretaker of the Hastle farm. He knows his buddy’s smartass son still hates his guts, but when Patch shows up growed-up, looking like sin in tight denim, Tucker turns his homecoming into a lesson about old dogs and new kinks.
Patch and Tucker fool around, but they can’t fool themselves. Once the farm’s sold, they mean to call it quits and head off to separate sunsets. With the clock ticking, the city slicker and his down-home hick get roped into each other’s life. If they’re gonna last longer than spit on a griddle, they better figure out what matters—fast.
Also by Damon Suede
Meet Damon Suede
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.
Advance and signed copies... an early ecopy of LICKETY SPLIT the weekend before it’s available and a signed print copy after it releases along with a pile swaggy extras.
Just in case you missed this weeks Featured Posts from Damon Suede
Monday: Day One… SWOON TIME: finding the right dirt to fall down in.
Wednesday: Day Three… Farm WORK: building Hixville and the Hastle farm for Lickety Split