- Dreamspinner Press
- Release Date
- June 2015
LGBTQ, Paranormal Romance
The summer after high school, Eli Dunn and Jess Early explore an abandoned brothel in the rural Florida Panhandle. They've always kept their mutual attraction unspoken, but in an upstairs room at the end of the hall, everything changes. Suddenly, all the longing Eli and Jess have tried so hard to conceal bursts free, and passion like they've never experienced comes to light, along with the ghosts of Clay Bailey and Silas Denton, murdered owners of the brothel. And Clay and Silas have no problem possessing Eli and Jess in order to express their love for each other, without thought for the living.
Deeply disturbed by the experience, Eli and Jess part and try to get on with life as best they can. But after several years, Eli returns to Florida, only to find that Jess has made some questionable choices. These eventually lead him back to the abandoned house and a confrontation with Eli. Old scores are settled and Eli and Jess reunite. But Clay and Silas's ghosts aren't finished yet, for they've always believed in the power of open and honest love.
BOOK INTERVIEW on October 2015
Interview by Laura
Hi Keelan, welcome to The Romance Reviews, and let's talk about your latest release.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for I'LL STILL BE THERE?
The idea for the possession aspect came to me out of the blue, and it was originally just a short story. However, once I'd written it, I realized that I wanted to explore who these ghosts are, so I wrote a second short story about them. At some point I realized they'd work better if they were integrated, and I was pretty happy with the result.
Q: It's certainly unique. What is your fascination with ghosts? Why did you include ghosts in this book?
Ghosts stories, for me, are always more sad than scary. There's always a serious trauma that keeps them hanging around, and in these stories there is often a living person who has to find a way to resolve that trauma. I find that compelling. In I'll Still Be There, the ghosts that Eli and Jess encounter do have a tragic story, but it's also an intensely romantic one. Part of what keeps them tied to the house is their tragic end, but I believe the strongest reason is that they don't want to give up what they had together when they were alive.
Q: Please tell us about Eli Dunn. What kind of man is he?
As the youngest child of a military family he had a fairly strict upbringing, though probably not as strict as his much older siblings. He's the kind of person you want to be around because of his easy disposition and physical beauty.
Q: How about Jess Early? How did his past shape him to be the man we meet in the book?
Jess had a rough start in life. His father died when he was young and his mother struggled to raise him and his younger brothers. His stepfather was an abusive alcoholic who died when he was a teenager, and this gave him a strong sense of duty towards his family. He had to give up a lot of his earlier dreams in order to fulfill that duty. He's a serious person who isn't always the easiest person to be close to.
Q: Eli and Jess went through a lot the summer after high school. When they met again, years later, what is their first meeting like?
Eli has come home to find that Jess has gotten engaged to a friend of theirs. He's suspicious of Jess's motivations but ready to lay everything out for him and finally be honest about what he wants. Here's an excerpt:
He pushed through the door, setting off some bells that had been hung overhead. Jess looked up and just stared at him. Eli stared back. He couldn't find any words. He walked over and put his arms on the counter, and finally Jess said, "You're home," in a soft, inscrutable voice.
"I'm home," Eli said. "I thought maybe, for good, but now I'm not sure. I thought maybe I'd be coming home to you."
Jess shook his head slightly and said, "Well, I guess you did. I'm still here."
"That's not what I meant," Eli said, still holding his gaze. Jess hadn't moved an inch. "You know what I meant. I came back here to tell you that you were right. What happened that night didn't change anything. It doesn't just go away, you said that." He felt a little desperate, like he needed to find the exact right words to say, and if he could, everything would be right again. "You said you loved me."
"I did," Jess said, "but I've moved on. You said you didn't want it, so I let it go."
"You just…" Eli laughed in disbelief. "You let it go. How? I never could. I've been holding onto it all this time. We loved each other for all those years, and it's just gone."
"You left." Finally, this was honesty. Eli could see it in his face. It was pure pain, and he understood that. He had left, just disappeared. He hadn't even stayed in touch.
"I know. I'm sorry," Eli said. "I was so scared. I was an asshole, I was so stupid. I want to make it right; I want to make it up to you. I'm telling you now, what I couldn't back then. I loved you then, and I love you still."
Q: Who are Clay Bailey and Silas Denton? Tell us more about them.
Clay and Silas met in 1950 and were killed in 1968 at the brothel they owned and operated. Clay was thrown out of his house after being caught kissing his boyfriend, moved to the city and became a hustler. Eventually he moved to the management side of that business, and after a few years of it, Silas came to work for him. Clay tries to keep a respectful distance from Silas despite a strong attraction and affection for him, but eventually the two men find themselves in a romantic relationship such has neither of them has ever experienced. After some violence and legal difficulties in Newark, they move to the Florida Panhandle and open up a brothel.
Q: Why did they decide to possess Jess and Eli?
I don't see it as a decision. Clay and Silas were caught in the loop of their last night together--the night they were murdered. Later, after certain things transpire and there is a resolution of sorts, they are able to gain control over their interactions with the living.
Q: What makes Jess and Eli perfect for each other?
These two have been friends since they were very young. They balance each other well, and Eli doesn't take Jess's gruffness personally. I think they keep each other honest, and they always have each other's backs.
Q: What for you is a romantic moment between Jess and Eli?
Jess comes to see Eli late at night, after he's finally decided what he wants and has broken off his engagement. It's the first chance the two have to be intimate with each other on their own terms. They're sitting on the porch of Eli's house, talking. Here's an excerpt:
"We can't do anything here," he laughed softly.
"Where, then?" Jess asked. "I want you real bad." His head was still resting on Eli's shoulder, and he turned so he could press a warm, wet kiss to his neck.
Eli groaned quietly. "We could take a drive," he said, then shifted so he could find Jess's mouth.
When they kissed, Jess let out a desperate, hungry, sound that made Eli briefly think of that first night at the house, when they'd first touched each other, before the ghosts had fully taken over. Maybe Jess really had wanted him that much, had felt that intensely about him. Eli had, he knew that now, and this night was no different. He'd been holding it back so carefully, had kept it so tightly wrapped, that he hadn't fully understood what it was.
"Let's go," Jess muttered, grabbing his hand. He stood, pulled Eli up, and they raced over to Jess's truck.
Jess started driving, glancing over occasionally with a small, slightly worried smile on his face.
"I'm not going to jump out or anything," Eli laughed, after the third time.
"Yeah," Jess huffed. "It's just...this is a lot like a dream I used to have sometimes. It was just this, us driving somewhere, towards something good, but I never knew what. But then I'd think, 'oh, we're there,' and I'd look over and you'd be gone."
Eli looked at him for a few seconds, then reached over to touch the back of his neck. "I'm sorry," he said.
Jess shrugged. "It was just a dream. You're here now."
After about ten minutes, he found a place to pull off the highway. It wasn't really a road, just a dirt track, and branches scraped the sides of the vehicle as they drove in further. Eventually he found a small clearing and pulled into it. They stared at each other for a moment, until Jess leaned across and kissed him.
"I missed you so much," he breathed, and those quiet words held so much sorrow that Eli could hardly stand it.
"I love you," Eli said, "I'm sorry."
Jess shook his head. "Stop saying that. I don't blame you for leaving. We needed some distance from- from that night."
"Should've called you," he said, kissing him again, "Should've written. It wasn't fair to expect you to be here waiting for my stupid ass."
"Not now, okay?" Jess said. "Come on." He pulled away and opened the door. Eli got out on the other side and walked around to meet him at the back of the truck. They climbed into the bed and collapsed together in the hard bed.
Q: Which character is the hardest to write? Why?
I found Eli difficult because he doesn't have a lot of darkness. It was hard to find something to get a hold of in terms of his personality.
Q: What's up next for you?
The sequel to I'll Still Be There is currently in the editing process and will be released soon. It's a novella called Anywhere You Go. We get some more insight into Clay and Silas's history together and get to see Eli and Jess work through some pretty common issues in any long term relationship. I am also just finishing up the first book in a detective series, which is an extremely exciting thing for me.
Sounds exciting for us, too! Thank you, Keelan, for taking out time from your busy schedule for this interview! Looking forward to reading more of your books.
Bio of author Keelan Ellis:
Keelan Ellis is a true crime enthusiast, a political junkie, and a comedy fan. Despite a compulsion to sometimes wallow in the depths of humanity's corruption and sadness, she considers herself a romantic at heart. The stories she really connects with are about love that's been twisted into hatred, and she believes that with honesty and forgiveness, love can overcome. Keelan loves good bourbon and classic country music, great television and well-prepared food, especially shared with like-minded people. She's not a fan of parties and large groups of people, but there's nothing she loves more than a long conversation with friends. Her favorite part of the writing process is the collaborative stage, hashing out plot and characters with smart and talented friends. It's where she truly comes to understand the people she's writing about, and often falls in love with them. With the support and encouragement--as well as some serious editing help--Keelan has found the writing niche she's always searched for.
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