Title: Redesigning Max (Foothills Pride #2)
Author Name & Publisher: Pat Henshaw (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: July 29, 2015 – 73 pgs
Renowned interior designer Fredi Zimmer is surprised when outdoorsman Max Greene, owner of Greene’s Outdoors, hires Fredi to revamp his rustic cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Fredi is an out-and-proud Metro male whose contact with the outdoors is from his car to the doorway of the million-dollar homes he remodels, and Max is just too hunky for words.
When Max comes on to Fredi, the designer can’t imagine why. But he’s game to put a little spice into Max’s life, even if it’s just in the colors and fixtures he’ll use to turn Max’s dilapidated cabin into a showplace. Who can blame a guy for adding a little sensual pleasure as he retools Max’s life visually?
Max, for his part, is grateful when Fredi takes him in hand, both metaphorically and literally. Coming out is the most exciting and wonderful time in his life, despite the conservative former friends who think they’re saving him from sliding into hell.
I was half in love with Fredi from the first page. He is, as several characters put it, “out there,” entirely unashamed of who is is and wonderfully flamboyant. He admits to playing it up for some of his design clients, but it’s pretty clear a lot of it is his natural personality. What I love is that despite being a bit of a gay cliche on the surface, he is in no way a stereotype or a stock character. Fredi has some fabulous surprises up his sleeve, and it’s fun to discover him over the course of the story.
Max starts out as a mystery, seemingly opposite Fredi in every way. He also seems to be a bit of a small-town outdoorsman cliche, but he too proves first impressions can be misleading. That was the most fun part of this story–letting go of initial reactions and letting these men tell their tale.
Pat Henshaw is a fantastic writer with a knack for creating memorable characters and settings. So far, this series has been two for two winners, and I can’t wait to read the next part.
Such a sweet story! Butch, closeted Max hires flamboyant Fredi to re-design his hunting cabin. Told from Fredi’s POV, the stylish, urban designer is bewildered by the silent Max and his conservative, redneck community.
I fell in love with Fredi. His character was fascinating and his voice felt very real as he navigated redneck bullies with his quick wit and an antique hunting knife. I loved his fashion, his friends and the whole foothills community.
Max was a bit more complicated for me. Like Fredi, I was confused by Max’s sexuality at the outset. Max also seemed to have very little control over his life. It took a while for Max to start asserting himself and standing up to the bullies. By the end of the book, I respected him, but it took a while.
The only thing I found difficult about the book were the cliche homophobic redneck bad guys. This part of the plot felt really dated. The story is a good one; it doesn’t need the additional drama.
Ultimately, this is a sweet, gentle story. The two very different men have a great deal in common. Fredi helps Max ease his way out of his closet and Max gives Fredi confidence. They both make each other very happy.
That night in bed, thinking of the delicious Max, I understood a little more why he wanted the forest in his house. I could understand how soothing the wide open-spaces could be to someone who spent his formative years as an outcast. Now I felt even more driven to give Max the vision he sought.
Three days later, exhausted from a couple of all-nighters but ready to show Max the portfolio of drawings and plans for his renovated cabin, I put on my other designer jeans, orange sailor shirt, green high tops, and lavender scarf. I was ready to knock Max’s socks off.
Max drove us to the Rock Bottom again for lunch. The grungy foothills cafe was just as tacky as it had been before and smelled just as delicious. The tables of surly-looking he-men in their Levis and wife-beaters or beat-up Western-cut shirts still stared and then whispered to themselves as I slid into a booth, the artist sketchbook tucked safely in my bag.
“So we’re ready to make some changes.” Max eyed the sketchbook as I took it out and laid it on the table.
“Whoa, not so fast.” I put my hand over the top of the book to keep it closed. “We’re a few steps away from starting. Let’s just take a look at the sketches and then talk money, and then if you’re still happy in a day or two, we can sign a contract. Remodeling isn’t anything to jump right into.”
The excitement brimming from Max’s face said Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Open the damned notebook.
I sighed. I always hated this part of the job. Clients either loved the sketches and wanted the work done yesterday or they wanted to haggle every nut and bolt to the ground, changing the floor plan, the color palette, or complete idea on an almost minute-to-minute basis. It was exhausting either way.
“Okay, first, what you need to do is look at these drawings and imagine yourself living in these rooms, not just looking at pretty pictures. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable here. At this point, everything is changeable, but it won’t be the case when we start tearing down and making the plan concrete. So take your time. Be sure you’ve fallen in love before you begin.”
I waited until Max lifted his eyes from the sketchbook, looked at me, and nodded before I opened the book.
I went through the pages one by one quickly, not asking Max for a response and not watching him. This was the private, internal part, and I let him have his space. Max wasn’t my first client who kind of knew what he wanted but couldn’t articulate it.
The first glimpse tainted the vision the client originally had going into the project. I could steamroll clients into taking what I’d given them, but in the long run, they had to live with the new reality and I wanted them to be happy. I really wanted Max to be happy.
“It’s perfect,” Max whispered just as the waitress brought our food. “Let’s do it.”
“Let’s eat first, before we break ground.”
I didn’t talk during lunch even though Max wanted to get me to sign him up and start moving.
After we finished the cherry-apple pie, I said, “Now I’m going to go through and point out some pricey details. Think about if you really want them because they add time and money to the design. We can easily discard them.”
“No, I want it just like you’ve got it in here.” Max tapped the sketchbook with his elegant fingers. “Just exactly what you’ve got here.”
I sighed. “Let’s try it my way, okay? Will you just listen?” I was holding an edge of the sketchbook closed and looking into Max’s eyes. I didn’t want Max to be an ultimately unhappy impulse buyer.
Max tentatively touched my hand. “I trust you.” He rubbed his fingers over mine.
I was surprised by the touch of his fingers, which had immediately made my body tingle. I’d read about people being attracted and feeling a zap of electricity, but I’d never experienced it before. As far as my past liaisons with men went, we’d both showed up, which was enough for gratifying sex.
“Just a few minutes of listening.” I could hear a shaky quality in my voice.
“Okay,” Max agreed, sitting back and putting his hands together on the table.
I took a deep breath to steady myself. I looked around the cafe, hypersensitive to the quiet scrutiny of the other diners. Were they leaning out of their chairs to listen to our conversation? Why did they make me feel uncomfortable?
I looked back at Max, who seemed oblivious to their attention. His eyes went from the sketchbook to me. He seemed to lean toward me, and his eager look seemed to be trying to hurry me along. His impatience made me smile.
I took a deep breath and started my spiel. “There are some carvings in the pictures you should think about. Atop and along the sides of the windows in the living room, master bedroom, and the kitchen, and on the headboard and bedposts in the master bedroom. You said you wanted to bring the outdoors in, so I thought these carvings would be perfect.”
I turned to the pictures. I’d drawn animals like squirrels, foxes, and badgers carved into the wood.
In the master bedroom, the four bedposts looked like geese landing at the head of the bed and taking off toward the windows from the foot of it. Across the headboard and footboard, I’d drawn pussy willows swaying with frogs, butterflies, and small birds among the reeds, all carved from one piece of hardwood.
Having worked with a wonderful carver so many times in the past, I knew he would take my ideas and flesh them out, probably change them as he saw fit, and leave Max with stunning pieces of art—if Max could afford them and, more importantly, if Max liked this idea as much as I did.
“Beautiful.” Max traced the birds taking off in flight.
“Yes, it is. You’ll notice the wood on the floor, around the windows, and making up the furniture is the only brown. The rest of the room is blue.” Actually the blues ran the scale of hues from Alice blue to ultramarine, but I made it a policy to use only the most basic names for colors since many of my less artistic clients got lost in the fancy color names.
“I like other colors, not just brown,” Max protested.
I nodded, not about to remind him that he’d only wanted brown and green. Except for the touch of Max’s fingers on my hand, my spiel had been pretty standard. As far as I was concerned, no surprises were good surprises.
“In the living room and kitchen”—I found those pages—“you’ll notice that the predominant colors are yellow.” Well, from canary yellow to goldenrod, but who was counting? “Also, I added more rustic carvings to the decks. Animals between the posts of the back deck and birds on the bedroom deck,” I said, flipping to the relevant sketches and pointing them out.
On each page, Max ran his finger over the details I mentioned. It was distracting, so much so I had trouble keeping to the script. Max might not be an artist, but he definitely had an artist’s soul. His fingers were gently stroking my soul as well as the pages.
The diners at the other tables seemed to be trying to see what had Max so enthralled. I wanted to stand up and announce, “This is a private showing. Go back to your meals.” I didn’t, but still, sweat had started to drip from my pits.
Finally I closed the book and passed it to Max. It was hard to stay on task with Max so focused on the drawings and the diners seemingly intent on us.
“I want you to take this book and really study the pages. Take notes in the margins. Circle things you don’t like or have questions about. Go to the cabin with the book and try to imagine every room looking like the sketch. What would you change to make the sketch more you?”
When I peered up at Max, I was surprised to see glistening eyes looking back at me. Was Max crying? Oh hell no. God, I hoped not. I don’t do crying people. Ever.
1) Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
Okay, here’s a fast, one time around the room picking out the highlights. First, the room is a very small bedroom—probably big enough to hold a single bed and maybe a nightstand—so I think it was originally planned to be an office. Or maybe the previous owners didn’t like one of their children?
Anyway, on the walls are a Chinese radicals chart, a good-bye graphic from when I left the Journal newspapers, a painting by a Texas state prison inmate entitled “Spectators at the Crucifixion,” a map of England, and prints of some of my photos. Four bookcases hold Chinese texts and readers, English reference books, my old manuscripts, and odds and ends.
My desk has computer and monitor, and a workspace littered with two Roget’s, one dictionary, and the peanut gallery: Nancy Pearl action figure, my 3-D printed avatar in quarter inch size, a tiny statue of Bastet, two mini meerkats, a mini cheetah (on loan from my granddaughter), two bobble-head animals, and two mugs of pens, pencils, brushes, and rulers. Two stacks of printouts because, really, enough trees haven’t died for art yet. Anyway, you can see all of that and more in the photo.
2) Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by “relate to.” I love all my main characters and a lot of the peripheral characters as well. They all have bits and pieces of my former students and gay friends in them. They all have a place in my heart, pretty much equally.
3) If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
Oh, too late! What I have done instead—or rather at the same time as writing—has ranged from costumer at the Alley Theatre in Houston to librarian jobs across the country to teacher at a junior college to publicist for WETA-FM and TV as well as writing book reviews for a number of print and online publications. Actually, I haven’t ever strayed too far from writing and never wanted to. Becoming an author is frosting on a long, happy writing career.
4) Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
The writing process as an author has been oddly the same and different as writing at any other job I’ve held. The different part is the editing process because with Dreamspinner my books go through three editors before final production. I’ve never had that much attention paid to anything I wrote, mainly I guess because whatever I turn in gets printed/published right away. So the longer process to getting my words out is definitely very different.
5) Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
No, I’ve written the best book I can about the subject which is all anyone can do. As I write more books, I may wish I could change something. But not right now. I like what I’ve done.
6) How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
This particular series was conceived as a collection of modern gay fairytales. So I already had skeletons for the idea. If you’ve ever read Indries Shah’s World Tales, you know where I’m coming from. What’s in a Name? was my take on Rumpelstiltskin. Redesigning Max is a riff on Cinderella. And Behr Facts looks at Goldilocks and the Three Bears from Papa Bear’s point of view.
7) What’s next for you as a writer?
I’ve still got two more Foothills Pride stories that I’m working on: When Adam Fell revolving around celebrity chef Adam de Leon who appears in the previous books and Cookie about Adam’s sous chef. After that, we’ll see. I have lots of ideas, so it’s a matter of which one to choose.
8) Where do you live? Do you think this influences how or what you write?
I live in Sacramento, California, on the edge of the Sierra foothills. The Pride series takes place in the fictional Stone Acres, California, a Sierra foothills community. So, yes, the foothills has a large influence on this series.
9) What is your favorite genre outside of the one you write in? Why?
I read all types of romances these days. I reviewed mystery fiction for quite a while and got tired of the graphic violence, so I usually stay away from it now. I’ve also burned out on sci-fi and fantasy, although I’ve written one vampire novel and am working on its sequel. I’m not sure favorite works with anything but romance and fantasy.
10) Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc.?
Is iced tea drinking a vice? Or making quarter inch miniatures? How about collecting craft materials? I do all three. Okay, and maybe online shopping. But who’s counting, right?
Pat Henshaw, author of the Foothills Pride series, was born in Nebraska but promptly left the cold and snow after college, living at various times in Texas, Colorado, Northern Virginia, and Northern California. Pat has visited Mexico, Canada, Europe, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Egypt, and regularly travels to Rome, Italy, and Eugene, Oregon, to see family.
Now retired, Pat has taught English composition at the junior college level; written book reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; helped students find information as a librarian; and promoted PBS television programs.
Pat has raised two incredible daughters who daily amaze everyone with their power and compassion. Pat’s supported by a husband who keeps her grounded in reality when she threatens to drift away writing fiction.