When I started writing Aftercare, it was only supposed to be a standalone. Syed was on trial for murdering his submissive boyfriend while his brother and his defense attorney fell in love and worked out their own power exchange relationship. When Aftercare ended with Syed’s acquittal and Aayan and Garrett’s engagement, I figured we were done. Happy ever after achieved!
But readers asked for more. They were glad to see Syed acquitted, but they also wanted to see justice served. If Syed didn’t murder Jamie, then who did? And yeah, I’d dropped a hint in book 1 about Syed and Dashiell. Dashiell had the hots for Syed, and with some time for Syed to heal, sparks might fly.
I’m what they call a pantser, meaning I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it, so I started book 2 without intending to do anything except solve Jamie’s murder and give Syed and Dashiell the happy ending they deserved. Two books would be enough. The Denir brothers would both be settled, and since there wasn’t a third Denir brother, I’d be done. No book 3.
By the time I’d finished writing Aftershock, I knew I had a book 3 in me. But would readers want to see Casey, who was one of—though by no means the worst—villains redeemed? Apparently yes. Feedback poured in, and it all said the same thing. Readers wanted a third book, and they wanted it to be about Casey.
I try to avoid writing traumatic stories about being gay. Since I’m not gay myself, they’re not my stories to tell. Instead I write stories in which the world is just a little bit better than it actually is, where gay men are more likely to find acceptance and love than rejection and hate, where the characters are comfortable in their own skins, at least as far as their sexuality is concerned.
So writing Casey was new territory for me. His internalized homophobia drives his character, and his externalized homophobia has had serious results that can’t be shrugged away. I knew some readers wouldn’t be able to stomach him, which was why I gave a strong content warning. His level of internalized homophobia could be triggering or might be a subject a gay person doesn’t want to read about from a straight author, which is fair and every person’s right to decide for themselves.
But I’ve got to say that I’m proud of the work. I felt so strongly for Casey as I was writing him. I’ve never been as glad to give someone a happy ending—a happy ending I believe he deserves, despite his past mistakes. He’s been deeply, deeply wounded, and in Aftermath, he gets beautifully healed.
And after three books, the series was definitely done. Unless…