In Conversation with Charlie Adhara
by Donna Soluri
Donna Soluri (DS): Thank you for taking the time out to chat with us today. I am a huge fan and found you in a rather unconventional way. I stumbled upon Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing back in March and didn’t realize it was the fourth book in the series. By the time I realized I’d started in the wrong place, I was too invested in the characters and story to stop! I was all in. Needless to say, when I finished the book, I immediately purchased the first three and stopped reading only long enough to tell every human in my contact list to stop, drop, and roll on your books! You are an excellent storyteller.
You are also somewhat elusive online, which is admirable! Since I have you as a somewhat captive audience, I have to ask about that. Tell us a little about
yourself. Is writing your full-time job? Have you always wanted to be a writer? How many dusty old forgotten manuscripts did you shove in the back of a drawer before you settled on the Big Bad Wolf series? Have you always been #TeamWolf?
Charlie Adhara (CA): Elusive! What an elegant way to say I’m terrible at it! But thank you for your truly kind words and for sticking with the series after jumping in at the middle! My orderly heart is aghast, but appreciative.
I knew for a long time that I loved writing and wanted to be involved with it one way or another. But making a living solely as a creative writer wasn’t really something I knew I could want. It didn’t seem feasible (still doesn’t, since I don’t make nearly enough to do this full-time). Instead, writing became something I did on the edges of work: occasional non-fiction stuff, teaching, etc. Then when I did get the time for creative writing, I’d always produce these terribly sad and hopeless stories because that’s what I’d been taught “serious” writing was. Ugh!
I came to romance somewhat late. It feels trite to say, but it changed everything for me. I had a total tectonic shift in understanding what writing could be and be for. I don’t think I exhaled for five straight months; I was truly reading romances in every spare moment. At some point I just decided yeah, I need to write one of these.
Don’t tell Park, but I don’t consider myself #TeamWolf, per se. At least not when I started the series. I just have this enormous weak spot for characters with secrets. Secret identities. Secret powers. Secret worlds. That’s the real appeal for me. I’m sort of fixated on this idea of writing a realistic—or at least recognizable—mystery book with one supernatural twist.
In fact, I was 90k deep in writing a sprawling, messy, mystery ghost romance (hadn’t even gotten to the first murder yet. The phrase “completely lost the plot” comes to mind) when I got Cooper and Park into my head. Two guys who have to work together to investigate a murder but don’t fully trust one another. I kept imagining them hiking into this spooky old forest together… except the spookiest thing around is actually Cooper’s secretly-a-werewolf partner Park and how well he fills out a pair of jeans. I was just going to jot down that scene before I forgot it and then go back to my overgrown ghost book. But then I thought of another scene. And another. And I just kept writing it “before I forgot” until I’d finished The Wolf at the Door. Now, three years later, I’m here doing promo for the fifth book in Cooper and Park’s series. We can officially say poor ghost guy got ghosted.
“I came to romance somewhat late. It feels trite to say, but it changed everything for me.”
DS: Your books are filled with diversity. Obviously, our main characters, Cooper Dayton and Oliver Park, are gay, but you also have bisexual and lesbian representation woven in with some secondary characters and stories. I love that a character’s sexuality isn’t a hindrance to their everyday life and happiness. The societies you’ve created, both the human and paranormal worlds, are very refreshing and inclusive. Honestly, it‘s a very Schitt’s Creek utopia feel and I, for one, love to see it! Tell me about this. Was this by design from the beginning of your writing journey?
CA: At first it was less of a conscious decision and more something I flinched away from writing as a queer reader who had been hurt by unexpectedly running into these moments of hate and identity-based violence in stories myself. Then when creating a new species in werewolves, I felt free to decide “Yeah no, that’s not a thing with them.” That being said, I’m not trying to pretend in the books that systemic injustice doesn’t exist in that universe at all. And not just in terms of sexuality, of course, but also racism, cissexism, ableism, etc. I mean, by the very fact that it’s our own “recognizable world” + werewolves, means structural violence still exists and to pretend it doesn’t might feel like ignoring how many aspects of our real world are affected by these institutions.
But I think there’s a way to acknowledge systemic harm without casually using trauma as a plot point. I don’t know. I’m definitely not an expert. It’s just something I try to keep learning about and improving on because if I had any “design from the beginning” it’s that I wanted to write a version of the stories I grew up loving that didn’t hurt—whether that hurt was from seeing your trauma used as a “teachable moment” or feeling like your real, lived experience had been erased, entirely. I just wanted to have a range of characters that I don’t always get to see in media, living their lives, falling in love, and getting peripherally involved in an Agatha Christie-type murder investigation. You know, the dream.
DS: Let’s switch gears just a bit and talk about wolf folklore. I have been a paranormal romance fan since the very beginning of my time in Romancelandia. Not only are the bodies more durable when it comes to sex—and other things, of course—but the mythology has always fascinated me. I love the rich history paranormal pulls from to create these amazing, fantastical worlds. Cry Wolf touches on some very specific folklore within the werewolf tradition. Without giving too much away, where did the Moon story come from? Did you adapt it from some historical text, or is it just your imagination running free? (Either way, kudos to you!)
CA: Oh, thank you! The legend of the Moon isn’t intentionally based on a specific text, no. But it would be pretty ridiculous of me to say I completely made it up all by myself with no influence whatsoever. Without giving too many details away, I think the idea of a powerful figure destined to show up one day and pass judgement is common to more than one myth/religion/fable. I’m pretty interested in how storytelling tropes, archetypes, and even the shape of the plot itself, not only reflects the values of a particular culture, but also enforces certain behaviors or expectations within that community. So when I had the chance to make up some myths for my myths, so to speak, I had a lot of fun thinking about who exactly were the ones keeping these stories alive in the werewolf community and for what reason . . .
DS: Again, without giving too much away, I LOVE the Alpha dynamic between Cooper and Oliver. So unexpected and yet, so incredibly perfect. As I said, I’ve been a PNR fan for a very long time. I do not think I’ve ever seen a dynamic like this. It’s a very bold writing choice, and you’ve implemented it flawlessly in your storyline. It’s yet another testament to your storytelling prowess. For those that might be new to your series, how would you best summarize Cooper Dayton and Oliver Park, on their own and as a couple?
CA: Cooper is a man on his own path—eternally a bit out of step with other people/the world, fiercely independent, a bit acerbic, a bit reactive, but genuine. Painfully so, sometimes.
Park is hyper-observant, wry, imposing, but actually quite sweet and softly lonely in that way that people labeled as “tough” or “scary” or “all grown up” far too young can sometimes turn out to be.
I think the things that drew them together in the very beginning—a shared sense of humor, sexual attraction, recognizing real compassion in the other—had the space to gradually deepen into one of those timeless, deep loves of partnership, friendship, and teamwork, because neither of them gets stuck on any assumptions of what the other person is supposed to want or need or be.
DS: For me, Cooper and Oliver work so well because they both bring equal amounts of trauma and baggage to the relationship. The power dynamic is level that way—they very much equal in the broken department, and they complement each other well. What is your favorite characteristic for each? Which part was the hardest to write/tell? If you had to pick one to have drinks with, who would it be and why?
CA: I should say my favorite characteristic of Park’s is how considerate he is. He’s a big strong werewolf, but still extremely tuned in to how people around him are feeling and that’s pretty cute. But my actual favorite thing about him is his interior-design aesthetic.
Cooper is a prickly porcupine and imperfect in a lot of ways. But he’s artlessly committed to growing and learning how to do better. He’s already better at saying “sorry” than I am and I admire that about him.
Incidentally, Cooper’s journey of self-improvement was also the hardest part of him to write. It was extremely important to me that Cooper falling into bed with Park—or even falling in love with Park—wasn’t going to be what “fixed” him. There was never going to be a switch that went off like, oh, this magical orgasm taught me to express my emotions in a super healthy and open way, now roll credits.
So I needed to slow down his character evolution over the course of a series while also making sure he stayed true to his prickly, anxious, exhausted-by-other-people’s-feelings self at his core. That could be . . . ah, tricky.
That being said, I’d get drinks with Cooper for sure. He cracks me up. I’d hit the flea markets with Park, though, much to Cooper’s chagrin.
“I just wanted to have a range of characters that I don’t always get to see in media . . . getting peripherally involved in an Agatha Christie-type murder investigation. You know, the dream.”
DS: One of the other reasons I adore this series is because I am a huge Criminal Minds fan. Solving crimes, getting into a bad guy’s head, figuring out the whodunnits and what makes them tick is my kinda catnip. From a craft point of view, how do you write these detailed and twisted plotlines? The “criming” that happens on-page is exceptional, and the mystery-solving is top-notch. As a reader, I love an unredeemable villain, and you do not hold back in the villain department. Is it harder to write the crime/mystery part or the romantic elements of the story?
CA: Oh god, it’s so hard to write the mystery part! It’s absolutely what takes me the most time whenever I’m plotting. And then I end up making so many changes during the actual writing anyway that I wonder why I bothered planning it out at all. Every time.
Craft-wise, I usually start each book with three clear things: 1. What I need Cooper to realize about himself, 2. What relationship development needs to take place. 3. A small list of scenes or locations I think could be exciting, eerie or interesting on the page.
So, for example, before anything else I know I want a scene of Cooper and Park walking tensely through a museum at night surrounded by taxidermy animals. Or seeing a body floating in a sea lion pool. Or driving down a flooded road in the mountains toward an abandoned car. Do I know why they’re there? Abso-friggin-lutely not. But I get those moments stuck in my head as fun opportunities for tension or description and then sort of plot backwards from there, trying to come up with a mystery idea that gets me to scenes x, y and z while also being thematically relevant to points 1 and 2 so that the romantic elements don’t feel wholly divorced from the sleuthing.
In short, it’s a terribly backwards system that I promise myself I’ll change every single time and never do. Help me.
DS: I absolutely loved the ending of Cry Wolf, and I hope this isn’t the last we will see of Cooper and Park. Please tell me there are more stories to come. And I do believe I see more than one possibility for a spin-off. What’s next for us in the Big Bad Wolf series?
CA: Oh no, I’m afraid I’m going to get elusive again. Like a carriage turning back into a pumpkin. Unfortunately, nothing is 100% set in stone yet so I can’t really give any absolutes. I will say a spin-off is very, very high up on my priority list. A certain someone needs a happy ending of his own, damnit. Whatever comes next though, I’m sure I’ll find a way to check in on Cooper and Park. Writing these characters has been a real unexpected joy and I don’t think I could stop them from popping up again if I tried.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and having me here on Book+Main! I hope I didn’t type your ear off!
About Charlie Adhara
Charlie Adhara loves snarky souls with a soft spot, twisty whodunits and happily ever afters. She writes contemporary, mystery, paranormal, queer romance. Or some assortment of that. Whatever the genre, her stories feature imperfect people stumbling around, tripping over trouble and falling in love. Charlie has done a fair amount of stumbling around herself, but tends to find her way back to the northeast US. When she’s not writing, Charlie is reading, hiking, exploring flea markets and acting as an amateur cobbler for her collection of weird shoes.
To learn more and stay updated, follow Charlie on the usual suspects!
Donna should be an empty nester, but she’s not, thanks COVID-19. She’s a voracious reader of all books; she can’t pick just one sub-genre. A staunch supporter of seasoned romance and a lover of cupcakes, you’ll often find her with a cup of tea and a mountainous TBR pile close at hand. Follow her @DonnaSoluri on B+M Bites.
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