McKay on Writing in Tandem and their latest release Striking Sparks by Ari McKay (author guest blog)


Striking Sparks by Ari McKay
reamspinner Press

Cover by Paul Richmond
Purchase it Here



Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have one of the authors that are Ari McKay here today answering questions and talking about their latest release, Striking Sparks, a Dreamspun Desire title from Dreamspinner Press.  Welcome McKay!


Hi, everyone! I’m the McKay half of Ari McKay, and I’m happy to be here with a guest post at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words in honor of our upcoming release from Dreamspinner Press, Striking Sparks.

I’ve got a few interview questions I’d like to answer, and while I’ll mostly be answering from my own perspective, I’ve known Ari long enough (twelve years and counting) that I can speak for her on some things as well.

Are you a planner or a pantzer when writing a story? And why?

We’re a mix of both. When we begin a new book, we develop the characters first and then flesh out the plot. We start with the characters since their motives and relationship will drive the action, and we figure out what their dynamic is going to be. For example, Beau and Jake start out as rivals in Striking Sparks. An argument they had in high school shaped the men they’ve become, and the words they said to each other in anger color their interactions at first. So our main goal was to figure out how we were going to move them past the old hurts and into a new understanding.

For less action-heavy books, we tend to create a loose outline and then dive in and see where the story takes us. A lot of times, the characters will throw in wrenches we didn’t expect, and we have to reshape the story to accommodate that. Ari and I both agree that listening to what the characters want is better than trying to force them to fit our preconceived ideas of what the story “should” be. Inevitably, the finished story is stronger if we let the story develop in the way that feels most right and natural for the characters.

But there are some books that require more rigorous planning. Several of our Herc’s Mercs books were plotted out in advance, and while we did leave wiggle room for changes, we knew where we were going to start, where we were going to end up, and (more or less) how we were going to get there before we started writing. That series has more action-adventure elements, so we needed to decide on the main plot points beforehand in order to work toward each one in a way that would make sense and develop the characters’ relationship along the way.

Can an author have favorites among their characters and do you have them?

I think it’s fine for an author to have favorite characters. I’d be surprised if there were many authors who didn’t! Maybe a character is a favorite because they were easy to write or because the book was written during a time in the author’s life that they have fond memories of in general, so there’s this positive association. Maybe the character embodies what the author would like to be themselves. Maybe the character is just plain likable, flaws and all. Whatever the reason, I think most of us do have characters that we enjoy(ed) writing more than others.

As you can probably tell from my answer to the previous question, Ari and I view our characters more as muses than as toys in a sandbox. We don’t pick them up and move them around exactly the way we want; we get in their heads to figure out who they are, and we listen to their voices.

Sometimes, their voices are really, really loud.

For us, the loudest characters are often our favorites. They make their desires clear and tell us exactly what they want to do and say, which makes writing them more like taking dictation than pulling teeth.

Some of my favorite characters are also the ones I had fun writing, often because they were funny or because they were significantly different from me, and I had fun slipping inside their skin and being outrageous in ways I’m not in real life.

Ari and I have a few favorite characters and couples out of our body of work, but I think if we had to choose an ultimate favorite, it would be Daryl and Emerson from Herc’s Mercs: Bloody But Unbowed. They’re an “opposites attract” couple, but they clicked so well, and we had fun writing them snarking at each other.

If you were to be stranded on a small demi-planet, island, or god forbid LaGuardia in a snow storm, what books would you take to read or authors on your comfort list?

Jane Eyre is my first choice. I’ve loved that book since I was thirteen years old, and I’ve read it many times over the years. To this day, I admire Jane’s fierce independence. The line “Reader, I married him” tells you everything you need to know about her and her strong sense of agency – and why I love her.

I’d take my complete collection of Jane Austen’s novels. Who doesn’t love a delicate skewering of 19th century social conventions? If I could take Stephen King’s entire body of work, I would. If not, I’d go with Carrie, The Stand, and his short story/novella collections. I’d have to throw in some Gail Carriger, Jaqueline Carey, and Kelly Link too. There are others (there are always “oh, and—!” books and authors when talking to a bookworm), but those are the ones I’d pick today. Tomorrow, it might be different! Except for Jane Eyre. That one is always first.

Where do you normally draw your inspiration for a book from?  A memory, a myth, a place or journey, or something far more personal?

Oh, we draw inspiration from just about anything! We refer to being inspired as having a plot bunny gnawing on our ankles. We’ve gotten inspiration from real life events, books, movies, song lyrics, art… you name it! With Striking Sparks, we were inspired by photos of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Those two men were ruggedly hot together, and we wanted to write a couple of cowboys based on them. In the end, our characters grilled the beef instead of herded it, but they’re both macho Texans. Jake is based on Newman and Beau is based on Redford (without the mustache).

Striking Sparks will be released by Dreamspinner Press on December 15th. We hope you enjoy it! Happy holidays from both of us to all of you!


About Striking Sparks

The stakes are high and the heat is on.

Beau Walker, owner of the Barbecue Shack, needs the help of Jake Parnell, his one-time rival and secret crush, in a televised barbecue competition. Beau is a proud man, but the stakes are high, and smart, sexy Jake is his only hope, even if being around Jake reawakens the attraction he’s fought for years.

Jake left his hometown, determined to build a life somewhere his sexuality wouldn’t hurt his family’s restaurant business—and far away from hunky, obstinate Beau Walker. Then his twin, Josh, is killed, and Jake returns to support his brother’s wife and children. Despite his reservations, he agrees to go head-to-head against Beau on national television. Between stress and grief, as well as pride and determination, only one thing is certain—the heat between Beau and Jake extends well beyond the kitchen.

About the Authors

Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.

Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.

McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

Arionrhod and McKay



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By Scattered Thoughts

At over 50, I am ruled by my terriers, my gardens, and my projects. A knack for grubbing about in the woods, making mud pies, and tending to the injured worms, bugs, and occasional bird and turtle growing up eventually led me to working for the Parks. I was a park Naturalist for over 20 years, and observing Nature and her cycles still occupy my hours. From the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Spring to the first call of the Snow Geese heading south in the Fall, I am entranced by the seasons. For more about me see my bio on my blog.

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