Fiction Friday: I love how the men in my books interact

I love the men in my stories and how they interact with each other.

In the Spencer Valley Chronicles, I currently have three men who I write about the most and who are all good friends with each other.

Jason Tanner (Harvesting Hope) and Matt McGee (Beauty From Ashes) went to high school together and Jason met Alex Stone (The Farmer’s Daughter) in college.

The men harass and pick on each other, but are also there for each other during the tough times.

I recently listened to a class with Susan May Warren and James Rubart about how to write male characters in our fiction and realized that while I needed a lot of the tips, I also have the benefit of living with two men who I can draw from when writing from the POV of a man. Am I an expert in writing male characters? Not at all. I still make them sound like a woman more times than not, which is why my husband suggested I remove some of my “internal brooding” moments with Alex from The Farmer’s Daughter. Sure, men do some internal brooding but not as much as women. They have things to do, places to be, and, luckily, men can compartmentalize so they don’t spend every second debating their “feelings” about every single situation.

I had Alex being way too introspective in The Farmer’s Daughter, even with my husband’s changes, but, well, Alex was at an emotional crossroads in his life, so he was doing a bit more soul-searching than other times in his life.

Today I thought I’d share some of my favorite interactions between the men in my books, just for fun. If you haven’t read the books, be warned, there are some spoilers here:

When Alex had moved to Pennsylvania, he soon realized watching the Philadelphia Phillies every Saturday afternoon that they played was a requirement in the Tanner family, whether he liked it or not. He, Jason, and their friend Matt McGee had laid out a spread of subs, chips, and sodas, kicked off their shoes and flopped onto couches and chairs, ready for a baseball binge.

“Alex Stone sounds like the name of some guy from a romance novel.” Matt playfully punched Alex in the shoulder and handed him a soda. “Anyone ever tell you that?”

Jason smirked. “How would you know about the names of characters in romance novels?”

“Hey, I had sisters growing up. They all liked those romance garbage novels. You know, the romances with the cookie-cutter plots. The ones with happy endings that made you want to gag because you knew it wasn’t real.”

“Yeah, just like the movies based on them,” Alex offered, cracking open a soda. He took a sip. “Girl with big career comes back to her hometown for a visit down on her luck.”

“Girl runs into an old boyfriend,” Jason said.

Alex mockingly sighed. “Old boyfriend brings back hard memories, but then old boyfriend tries to apologize for all he’s done.”

“Girl falls for old boyfriend again,” Matt said.

Jason grabbed a handful of peanuts from the bowl and shoved them in his mouth. “Old boyfriend screws up again and girl goes back to big city.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “But old boyfriend realizes he’s a screw-up and that he really loves her and follows her to the city.”

“He tells her he’s always loved her.” Matt took a sip from his soda. “And she tells him she’s always loved him.”

“And everyone lives happily ever after,” Jason concluded.

Alex choked out a gagging noise. The three men looked at each other, pretending to wipe tears from their cheeks.

“Cookie-cutter plots full of clichés.” Matt poked Alex in the chest. “And you, Alex, are one of those clichés. Alex Stone. The handsome cowboy with the six-pack who comes to steal the girl away from the boring, uptight rich guy in the city.”

Alex lifted his shirt and looked at his flat, but slightly paunchy stomach, pushing at the soft flesh. “I’d love to have a six-pack, but I think I would need to work out a little more.”

Jason opened a bag of chips and reached for the remote. “Or just work more period.”

“Oh, geez, thanks, bud.” Alex elbowed Jason in the ribs.

Then there was this interaction between Matt and another friend, Troy, when Alex revealed (spoiler alert) he had an interest in Molly.

“We haven’t seen you at the bars lately,” Troy said as the waitress brought the drinks. “What’s up with you?”

I’m growing up, Alex wanted to say.

“Just been enjoying some solitude,” he said instead, deciding not to add that he was actually enjoying that solitude with Molly when they could find time alone.

He found it uncanny that at the exact moment he thought of Molly, she appeared out front of the restaurant, talking to the librarian. What was the librarian’s name again? He thought Molly had said her name was Ginny. They’d been attending art classes together.

He smiled as an idea struck him; a way to make his friends think he hadn’t lost his way with women, when he knew he had and didn’t mind at all.

“What do you boys think about Jason’s sister? She’s good looking, right?”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Um. Yeah. She is, but you better not be noticing.”

Alex laughed, looking out the window at Molly. “Why?”

“Because Jason will kick your butt for checking out his little sister,” Matt answered with a tone that signaled he thought Alex had lost his mind.

Troy shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s a little too big for me. Nice girl, though.”

Alex took a sip of his soda, still watching Molly talking with the librarian, and then smirked.

“She’s just right for me. I like a girl with some meat on her bones.” He winked at his friends. “More for me to hold on to.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Dude. You’re so going to end up with a bloody nose if Jason ever hears you talking like this.”

Troy laughed and punched Alex in the arm.

“Yeah, seriously, Stone, you better watch it. Jason will kick your butt to next week if he hears you talking like that about her.”

Alex looked at Troy and Matt and rubbed his thumb and index finger along his unshaven chin. “I bet I can get her to go out with me.”

Matt shook his head. “You’re too old for her. She doesn’t want to go out with an old man like you.”

Alex’s grin widened. “Hey, she’s only a couple years younger than me. I bet you she will.” He stood up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

“Dude! Don’t make an idiot out of yourself!” Troy called after him.

“More than you already are anyhow,” Matt added with a laugh.

Then there was later, in Harvesting Hope, after Alex and Molly were seeing each other and Jason had to put up with the two of them sneaking kisses in the barn.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alex’s arms slid around Molly’s waist, pull her close.

“Save that for later.” His tone denoted a touch of teasing, even though he was serious. “We’re behind schedule.”

Molly and Alex locked gazes, small smiles playing at the corners of their mouth. It was obvious they were ignoring Jason’s attempt at wielding authority. He’d have to start the milking without them.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alex pull Molly closer and lower his mouth to hers. Revulsion tinged with jealousy swirled in his stomach. Revulsion over Alex kissing his little sister right there, outside the barn door where Jason had to see it; jealousy because he wished he was holding Ellie the same way. He didn’t know if she’d ever let him hold her that way again.

Alex playfully bumped him in the arm on his way to gather the feed several moments later, grinning. “There’s always time for a sweet kiss from your sister, buddy.”

Jason choked out a gagging noise. “Dude, seriously. No. Just no. Never talk that way about my sister around me again. Especially not this early in the morning.”

There were moments he regretted convincing Alex to move in with him and work on the farm, for example right now, bogged down with thoughts of Alex kissing Molly. Most days, though, Alex was part of the family, as much as a brother as he was a best friend.

I also wrote about Jason dealing with his best friend and sister dating later in the book:

The front door slammed open, bringing Alex and a gust of wind into the room and jostling Jason from his memories.

This was present day Alex. Alex several years older but in some ways the same ole’ Alex. Well, hopefully not exactly the same, since he was dating Molly now.

The crash of thunder and rush of pounding rain roared into the living room, quieting only when Alex pushed the door closed, his clothes clinging to him. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.

“All the lights are off and you’re listening to sad country music. This can’t be good.”

“It’s not sad music. It’s Chris Ledoux.”

“Who you only listen to when you’re sad.” A crack of thunder rattled the window and lightening lit the sky outside.

Alex winced as he pried his wet button-up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. It landed in the hallway, and Jason hoped he would pick it up this time. “Thinking about Ellie?”

Jason tipped his head back against the arm of the couch, his long legs stretched across the faded grey cushions, one arm laying across his forehead, the other one hanging off the couch.

“Yeah. And Lauren.”

Alex reached up and flicked on the light switch. “Ah, man, no. Not a good combination. You can’t sit here alone reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”

Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table without sitting up. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips on the floor. “Um… this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”

Alex pulled his wet tank top off and walked behind the couch toward the hallway leading to the bathroom. “Listen, I’m going to go get dried off and changed. When I come back, you better tell me what’s up.”

“Will you have your shirt on when you come back? Because I don’t need to see that.”

Alex scoffed and slapped his hand against his bare chest. “Of course, you need to see this. Who doesn’t?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Yeah, well —”

“If you say Molly likes to see that, I will get off this couch and mess up your pretty boy face.”

Alex raised his hands in a surrender motion. “Okay. Okay. Calm down, big boy.”

And for a sneak peek of Beauty From Ashes, an interaction between Matt and Jason during a hunting trip:

Matt knelt next to the animal and drew his knife. “Too bad he rolled down here. It won’t be fun carrying him out.”

Jason lifted his arms and flexed his arm. “Leave that to me, puny man,” he said in a thick European accent. “I can carry your haul for you. When you’re done, you go ahead and get ATV and I’ll meet you at access road.”

Matt leaned back on his heels and quirked an eyebrow. “Puny man? Really? Just because your muscles are as big as my head doesn’t mean I am a puny man, Tanner. I’m perfectly capable of carrying my deer to the access road. Plus, let me point out that I got a deer today and you didn’t, remember?”

Jason laughed.  “Hey, come on. It’s barely nine in the morning. I don’t have to be back at the farm for a couple more hours. I still have time to get one.” He leaned over and poked Matt’s bicep. “But you, little man, don’t have time to build up muscle before we need to carry this deer out.” He laughed again as he swung his gun onto his shoulder. “Seriously, I’ll head down for the ATV. It will take me a while to hike down and by then you should have this dressed and carried down.”

Jason was right, of course. Matt wasn’t as muscular as him. Having played football in high school and college, plus lugging heavy hay bales and farm equipment around every day, Jason did have a lot more upper body strength than Matt and almost anyone Matt knew.

I’m looking forward to writing more interactions between these men in a future book that will focus on Alex and more of his backstory.

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