In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for a copy of Hot Head.
Grown Men grew out of a photograph posted in May on the (inestimable) goodreads M/M group. Something about this image just prodded my Muse and I knew from the get-go that some deep science-fictioning needed to take place. For one thing the tropical setting felt slightly artificial and otherworldly for some reason and I also wanted to justify the insane disparity between their sizes.
The minute I knew the story was set in the future, I started poking at the edges of the world. How could a giant live and love in a world that accepted him as he was? What kind of world would allow that kind of extreme physical enhancement (and threat)? And how would two men so obviously different wind up together butt naked in a tropical paradise?
I didn’t even know if the story would work, and Riptide Publishing hadn’t even appeared on my radar yet. But I felt like there was an edgy romanticism to these mismatched men and I decided to just jump in because my Muse kept nudging me. The beach setting indicated something primal to me: a raw untested landscape. And the ruggedness of the men indicated pretty grueling gruntwork and a lot of time spent baking their formidable physiques in relentless UV. Tropical setting. Genetic design. Hard labor. The job came almost instantly: terraforming… the process of modifying an existing world to support human lives and industries.
These two studs were building a planet from scratch. Cool.
Okay… so who can afford a planet? Well, obviously the necessary technology and resources indicated a lot of money and political clout, but these fellas seemed pretty working class. So they had to be employees of some kind, hired to terraform for a big company with unfathomable influence and domination. Obviously no company earns enough to buy several star systems without being fairly slick and ruthless. These men’s contracts had to be with a massive conglomerate integrated vertically, with divisions covering everything from baby formula to smart weapons to digital coffins.
And so the HardCell Corporation was born.
Of course in this universe I discovered, if a corporation can own a star system then corporations have finally, overtly, literally replaced governments at every level (not that such a thing could EVER happen). HardCell would need workers for the nitty-gritty, so why not raise employees from birth and offer corporate citizenship only to those who work diligently. And if these employees lived at the whim and mercy of companies, humanity’s “softer” inventions would have been replaced by corporate offerings: art and mythology replaced by “adver-tainment,” homes by “Habitats,” and loving marriages by sex resorts and purpose-grown clones. Employees don’t die, instead they are “retired” by corporate assassins when their productivity drops. In the HardCell Universe, humanity has become cells in a vast interstellar corporate organism… Gah! Sort of depressing, but with lots of room for hopeful, sexy struggle.
Little by little, I followed the HardCell logic outward to build the world for this story. A massive company with billions of employees would need serious food production, maybe that’s why they need to terraform planets, to produce the basics: food, clothing, shelter… A massive corporation would give its lowliest employees the bare minimum in terms of supplies and comforts. The tools and housing would be slick but Spartan, because the employee would be the one doing the work. Who would agree to come live (and slave) on the galactic outskirts willingly? Obviously someone desperate who wants to become a citizen with stock options, elevating themselves from being a mere grunt to rise in the corporate ranks if possible. Someone willing to gamble and sacrifice, big time.
So Grown Men takes place on an agricultural planetoid that’s been designed to generate simple high-volume food for HardCell employees across the Galaxy.
Of course, I immediately got interested in WHAT that food would be. If I ran a giant galactic corporation and needed to feed people, what would the products be? I figured fast food will never go away, and will only get more primitive and guttural… flavored mush that you can suck out of plastic packaging. HardCell would definitely sell shiny, MSG-soaked goo to anyone willing to buy it. Who needs a kitchen or utensils or teeth?! And so “mealpaks” sprang fully formed as the bastard spawn of our fast-food nation. 🙂 But mealpaks would be a treat… too expensive for the average worker.
Likewise, I needed to know what my two heroes would grow in outer space on their island. It needed to be high-protein, high-yield, and highly portable. With an artificially fertile tropical setting, I added the idea of crop terraces borrowed from the Inca. Soybeans and lentils seemed like a no-brainer. Soybeans gave me the idea for SoyShimi because HardCell would want to “package” and brand the crop for consumers. And because lentils are slow, I crossbred it with kudzu, aggressively speedy and a food source in itself. And branded plants would keep HardCell in control of profits. I added mangos because they’re a tropical superfood, very hardy, and easy to ship.
To pollinate and tend the crops, I had this idea about intelligent bees, but I wanted them to be nocturnal (to maximize the growth cycle). I spliced bees and moths (which also gave me a fun “behemoth” pun for my giant) who answered to a mechanical queen that controlled the farm’s crop terraces. The oceans became freshwater (to simplify irrigation) and because I needed an amped growth cycle I decided on a planetoid with twin-suns.
So then, I went through the catalog of planetary objects likely to sustain earth-like life forms and zeroed in on candidates with two suns. I scrolled through hundreds of star maps and tried to find a star system that wasn’t on the far side of the galaxy (because HardCell couldn’t have expanded that far even within a thousand years from now). Little by little I zeroed in on several stars in Andromeda (because of their proximity to our sun AND because I love the myth of Andromeda. Likewise, my gut told me that the myth of Andromeda and the sea monster would be good in a story featuring eels and a possibly murderous giant. And finally I found the solar system HardCell had redesigned: HD10307… and invented planetoid HD10307-E.
Thinking in terms of corporate efficiency, I wanted there to be some kind of meat or ranching going on. Cows and sheep are incredibly inefficient and ecologically unsound. I thought of goats (because I love goats), but they don’t produce enough meat and milk. Since the photo suggested a tropical beach setting, the ocean would be the most productive “paddock,” but fishing seemed too equipment-intensive and low volume. No corporation would pay a man to fish enough to feed a galaxy. Basically I wanted a tasty aquatic animal that could grow to vast dimensions and also underscore the alien-ness of the planetoid. Ding ding ding. EELS! What are weirder or more alien than eels? And their meat is delicious and sturdy. Real eels can grow to nine feet easily, but in the HardCell Universe, biodesign opened up all kinds of possibilities. I made my eels conger hybrids that grew up to twelve feet and made them herd-friendly so they could live in an aquatic corral.
Now my unlikely lovers had a job: on an alien planet somewhere in Andromeda, they farmed and ranched eels, crating and shipping the harvest for profits. By meeting their quotas, they work towards corporate citizenship and the HardCell stock options that will make them more than low-paid employees.
Two strong men struggling for a better life and forced to trust each other. Yay! From that point the love story exploded out of me onto the page. Each of my men met their match and much more….
When the story opens, HardCell has marooned my main character (Runt) in the middle of nowhere. Scrappy and starving, Runt has survived alone for eighteen months because his assigned clone-wife died on entry. Farming is backbreaking work on earth, but farming in isolation on an alien island would be unbelievably lonely and grim. What better situation to kickstart an unlikely romance? Of course, another person does arrive, but not the replacement clone-bride … instead Runt meets Ox, a genetically modified giant nearly eight feet tall and wrapped in enhanced sinew, who most likely has arrived to retire him forcibly and steal his farmstead. Paranoia? Check. Dystopian sexiness? Yuh-huh. Room for some very startling love scenes? You’d better believe it. Grown Men charts the journey these guys take together, both in their harsh environment and with their own distrust and hope.
Rachel (Haimowitz) snapped up Grown Men immediately, grooving on the complex world and tone. Amazing. I love that this story is one of the first books being released in Riptide’s First Wave, partially because I think Riptide is such a wonderful fit for the story and also because I feel like Rachel and Aleks have every intention of making me push the envelope with subsequent “transmissions” from the HardCell universe.
Of course, the world continued to bloom organically around the characters; HardCell and its branches became so crammed with cool situations that I already want to know what happens next. SO many options for other dramatic characters trying to fight the corporate hegemony! So many futuristic redemption stories I’m dying to tell! And so much sci-fi romance out the ying-yang because nothing makes Love more delicious than struggling against impossible odds. *cue ominous futuristic chord* Can anyone bring down HardCell and save humanity from itself?
And all that grew out of looking at a picture and building the HardCell Universe one idea at a time.
About the Author Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to M/M, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.