Daniel Stephens
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The Wild Rose Press
Release Date
April 2016
LGBTQ, Literary Romance

Used to luxurious, high-profile city life, Chris's world is shattered when tragedy takes his husband and young son. Seeking a life free from pain, Chris returns to his grandfather's cabin on the shores of Wolf Thorn Lake, Maine. When Chris meets Jake, the earthy young man who resides across the lake, Chris faces his most challenging decision yet. Does he continue his life alone, or does he risk his heart and the potential of love he sees illuminated in Jake's warm eyes? A young man running from pain, a rural free spirit with the ability to heal, and a wolf who haunts the shore-line of Wolf Thorn Lake illustrate the endurance of the human heart, the capacity to learn how to love again, and the heart's ability to restore even the most wounded of men.

Book Review by Merissa (reviewer)
Oct 27, 2017   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
91 people found the following review helpful
SURFACING is the engrossing story of a young man, hurt beyond belief and grieving, lost to his world but desperately trying to reconnect. Everywhere he turns, he drowns in memories of the life and loves that have been taken from him. So he returns to his roots, to the cabin where he spent the summers with his grandparents, hoping to find some solace. What he finds is a family--a group of people where many of them remember him from his youth. Where he can find out just who he is and learn to deal with the grief, and maybe even move forwards and find love again.

The descriptions in this book are second to none--whether it is the characters, the wolf, or even the cabin. They will pull you in and keep you reading. It is a story of pain, of loss, of heartbreak. And yet there is also the glimmer of hope, of the future, if only you feed the right wolf! There were no editing or grammatical errors that disrupted my reading flow, and the pacing was smooth throughout. Whilst this book is also about love, the only thing that is 'shown' is kissing, the rest is fade to black.

This is a poignant story that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would highly recommend to all.
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Interview by Laura

Hi Daniel, welcome to The Romance Reviews, and let's talk about your latest release.

Q: Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

I grew up in a rural, mountain top community in northern New Jersey much like Wolf Thorn Lake in the novel. When I was nineteen, I moved to New York City and I was very surprised by the questions I received about my home on a lake in north Jersey. To my friends in Manhattan, my life in the woods appeared far more threatening and dangerous than life on West 109th street.

When I write, I am intrigued by characters who are forced to discover a world outside of their element and the ways it forces them to awaken strengths they never knew they had. So in SURFACING, I placed a relatively well off young man, spoiled by high class life on New York's upper east side, into an extremely rural small town setting in Maine: a life he is not prepared for. His new life in a rustic cabin on Wolf Thorn Lake forces him to confront the painful loss he is running from. As the novel progresses, he learns about the ability to love again, and discovers the healing powers that the awakened human heart contains. It's a romance in the truest sense of the word.

Q: Please tell us more about Chris. What kind of man is he? How did the tragic death of his husband and son affect him?

Chris is a brave young man. He doesn't think so, but I sure do. Like many of us, he got swept up in a life of parenthood, the security of a successful husband, and perhaps, he overlooked how truly lucky he was. When his husband and son die, (a year before the book opens), he is left with a profound emptiness. Grief like that is overwhelming and Chris's grief terrifies me. I think it terrifies us all. Yes, he sought counseling, yes he was surrounded by supportive friends. But months after tragic events like this, the rest of the world moves on, seasons continue to pass, while Chris's world stopped the day he lost Scott and Davy. How do you even begin to think about life continuing… alone?

Chris is a brave man because he makes a choice to live, authentically and bravely. He knows he can not stay in New York City where memories surround him on a daily basis. So, he moves to the rural cabin that his grandfather left him on the shores of Wolf Thorn Lake, Maine. He spent summers there as a small child, but he hasn't been back in twenty years. He returns to the lake for a number of reasons: to heal his broken spirit, to retreat from painful memories, and most importantly, to begin a new chapter in his life. He knows a future romance is out of the question, so he returns to the lake to mend his spirit and, hopefully, to find solace in the shore line, the pine forests, and maybe, just maybe, that perfect cup of coffee on his dock watching the sun rise. To me, this is a brave man. He may be running away, sure. But most importantly, he is also running towards something: a richer sense of himself and the hopes of reawakening the spirit he lost a year ago. When he never counted on, was meeting Jake.

Q: How about Jake? How is he a swoonworthy hero?

Oh- Jake is a blast. He's not a typical romantic hero, but he is a total swoon worthy hero. Jake, like Chris, is in his mid twenties and is a cook at the local diner. He's sober for eight years, and sports a ponytail he keeps wrapped up in a bandana. He drives a VW bus sporting "love your mother earth" style bumper stickers. So, yes, he looks like a total tree hugging hippy, and he is. Proudly so.

But Jake is no fool. He's been through his own mess: alcoholism. Sobriety thought him about the endurance for healing a wounded soul and the journey he took to find peace in his core is one he cherishes. He's a strong man. Sensitive, really sexy (without knowing it), compassionate, and totally down to earth.

He's the total opposite of Chris. He's more comfortable in ripped jeans and a worn flannel shirt compared to Chris's designer slacks and the latest style sports coat. Jake has discovered the serenity of living his life on a day to day basis and is truly grateful for his home on the shore of Wolf Thorn Lake. In this way, he's the perfect panacea for Chris's wounds.

Q: How is their first meeting like?

Their first meeting takes place on a winter night. It's Chris's first night in the old cabin and he's desperately trying to start a fire in the wood stove. In his co-op in New York, all he had to do was flick a switch and poof, a beautiful gas fire lit in an ornate fireplace, but on Wolf Thorn Lake? Not. A. Chance. Jake arrives with a welcome gift from the locals in the diner: a box of sticky buns.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 3:

The old cabin appeared a bit lost.


The damp, cold air accentuated the scent of hidden mothballs and stale wood-stove ash.

The sheet-covered furniture looked like ghosts begging for release and the old moose head above the oversized fireplace looked upon this new tenant with a little judgement. Its glass eyes as cold and distant as the snow outside. Vacant and hard.

Chris walked to an old sheet-covered couch in the middle of the room, grabbed a corner of the dust sheet and gave it a good yank. It sank to the floor and the couch became alive with a distant sigh. A bright red wool blanket striped with yellow and white was slung across the top of the worn sofa and two oversized pillows on either end, an inviting reward for his nearly nine-hour drive.

Yes. This was good, he thought and laughed out loud. Really laughed, and it felt wonderful. He spun around slowly and took in the old, familiar space. He was relieved to finally return to the home he knew and remembered from so long ago. No matter the cold outside, he felt protected and safe for the first time since the tragedy.

Safe, warm, and finally home. And this was just the beginning.

Later that night, Chris was attempting for the third time to make a fire in the wood stove when the alarming noise of hard boots stomped across the porch. He listened closely as the heavy-footed stranger took a few steps, and loudly stomped snow from the treads before Chris even heard the firm knock on the door. Murphy let out a few barks and Chris left his job in front of the stove.

When he opened the door he wasn't prepared.

Nothing in his 28 years could have prepared him for this.

In front of him stood the most handsome man he had ever seen. Though Chris froze, his heart remained wildly active, beating in instant recognition and warming him better than any wood stove. The stranger stood about 5'9" and had a scruffy dark beard line. Chris took in his full lips, and eyes as brown as a bear's and as warm as the sun. A few strands of long brown hair peeked from under the blue bandana he wore. Hippy, Chris thought. Total hippy, and totally hot.

"Sticky buns?" the stranger offered.

And then the stranger smiled, and the snow melted in Bayshadow Maine.

Q: What for you is a romantic moment between them?

In this novel, I tried to accentuate the thrill of new romance and with the desire of erotic energy. Chris swore off relationships, so initiating the romantic contact is difficult for him. Jake, however, sees an incredible man and is ready to dive in. In this selection form Chapter 12, Chris watches as Jake skinny-dips early one morning. Both men are very aware of each other and for the first time, Chris acknowledges his incredible attraction to Jake.

Enjoy this excerpt:

The naked man was the image of perfect contentment. He raised his arms, froze for a moment, and swiftly dove into the water, splitting it like a billowing silken mirror.

Chris felt a chill when the naked man dove into the lake. His balls retracted at the chill and he shivered, but the dive looked wonderful. Jake swam briskly across the lake, lost in the splashes of arms, legs, and dodging head. The sunlight turned the ribbons of water into thousands of shimmering crystals.

He continued to watch as Jake made a few laps to the center of the lake and back to his dock. Like a fluid metronome, Jake's breast strokes were rhythmically timed to Chris's own heartbeat. Chris leaned his head back and let the sun warm his face. Thankful for the vision and the momentary peace.

He watched Jake pull himself up on to his dock, strong arms, firm ass, and solid, hairy legs. Like a rain-soaked pagan god, the water ran off his muscular body sharpening the outline of hips, musle and dark fur.

Jake grabbed a towel and rubbed it vigorously over his long hair and then he simply stood with his face, up, into the sun. Quiet, serene, and overwhelmingly comfortable.

Chris stared at him. Attracted immensely, but also somewhat in awe. Who was this guy? Why was he so attracted to him? Jake was light years away from the guys he knew. Secure lawyer types who visited gallery openings and classic concerts on a weekly basis. Oh, if they could see me now, Chris thought, and laughed.

Finally Jake noticed Chris and waved broadly. No shame or embarrassment at his nudity, he actually waved the towel to get Chris's attention.

Chris smiled at having been noticed. He laughed and waved back. It was turning into a good morning.

Then Jake did the unexpected. He dropped the towel at his feet, leaned back into the sun, arms spread as wide as the forest, and from deep within his lungs, let out a long, healthy howl. He screamed it aloud. "WoooOOOOOOHHHHHHH." His chest expanded, rose and fell with the breath and the howl crossed the lake and echoed on the distant shores.

Both men laughed. Chris lifted his head up onto the sunshine and laughed loud and hard. Even though separated by the water between the distant docks, both men were joined in this moment of improvised joy. It was masculine, rich, and so liberating that Chris shouted back. It was a joyful holler.

"WhoooooOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOO," he shouted, loud and free. He kicked his feet in the water with all his might in sheer exhilaration and the crisp water flew over his bare legs, chest and lap. It ran in icy rivulets over his stomach and between his thighs where it nestled like a silvery song.

The weight was lifting.

He was discovering what it was to become alive again.

And this time, he knew it.

Q: Which character is the hardest to write? Why?

Chris was extremely difficult to write. I never wanted the book to become maudlin or tragic-centric. So balancing his grief with the exploration and enjoyment of his new life in the Maine woods was central to my writing. Luckily, I think that balance worked for many bloggers have praised the novel's insights to grief, along with the ability to recover and accept the light and the life that lay ahead.

Q:What kind of research did you have to do to write this book? Please share an interesting fact or unique behind the scenes experience.

I researched a lot of legends of the Penobscot indians regarding wildlife and the balance between nature and living authentically. I wanted to return to the core of what being alive really means, without all of the distractions that contemporary life offers. I felt was important for Chris to discover absolute silence- no phones, no iPods, no cable TV. Just his own thoughts, and his dog, Murphy.

I also wanted him to connect with nature's darkness. Not dark-night-of-the-soul darkness, but the kind of darkness that lives on a still lake in the middle of the night, lit only by fireflies and a thousand of stars overhead. That kind of darkness. Chris needed to return to peace, and many Indian tales and rituals celebrate returning to that kind of spiritual peacefulness. The research was astounding- beautiful tales of being reborn from grief and fighting the internal enemy that blocks our heart. I was truly inspired from what I learned. …and thankful too.

Q: What is the message that you want readers to take away from your story?

What I love about Romance literature is the single fact that it is based upon hope. I feel the success of the Romance industry is the light in very troubling times. It's the perfect army against a world that is inundated with instant, knee-jerk cynicism. There is always hope- and as Steven Sondheim wrote in Into the Woods, "Sometimes people leave you / half way through the wood / do not let it grieve you / no one leaves for good / no one is alone."

So, I hope readers take a few things from their journey to the shores of Wolf Thorn Lake.

1) We need to explore our world, whether it's the garden in the back yard or backpacking through the Grand Canyon, we need to wonder and explore new pathways. When we stop exploring, our spirit suffers.

2) We need to cultivate our child-like sense of curiosity. This is one of Chris's strengths. He's curious and he acts upon that sense. New worlds open up for him because of this.

3) When all is said and done, and the last meal has been eaten, our lives amount to the love we have given away. I think this is what is behind every romance novel and it one of the strongest reasons why Romance literature continues to be so popular.

4) One of my writing friends, Mary Shafer, once asked me what I do to honor the creative spirit. This book is my reply to her.

Q: What's up next for you?

I currently have two books in process. One is a M/M romance that takes place in Greenwich Village NYC. I also write str8 romances under the pen name Frances DeleCourt Winters, and I am currently writing part two to my romance, THE FORTUNE TELLER'S GARDEN which was published by Black Lyon Publishing in 2014. This will be a series of three novels that take place in the seaside town of Cobweb Corners New Hampshire.

Sounds exciting! Thank you, Daniel, for taking out time from your busy schedule for this interview! Looking forward to reading more of your books.

Bio of author Daniel Stephens:

I have a Phd in Victorian Literature and teach Victorian and Contemporary GLBT Literature at a mid-sized university in Eastern PA. I have several academic articles published on Victorian Sensation Fiction and the Penny Dreadful Genre. In 2013, influenced by some of my students, I began researching contemporary Romance novels and decided to change gears for a while. I dove into Romance writing and I am loving every second of it!


Writing as Daniel Stephens


The Wild Rose Press

Writing as Frances DeleCourt Winters


Black Lyon Publishing

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