Friday, September 12, 2014

Where have all the villains gone?

I don't mean "damaged" characters. We have those in abundance. Antiheroes, too. I mean the bona fide bitches and bastards, users and abusers, manipulators and liars and cheats. Where are they in romance fiction? Have they been scared away by our desire for happy escapes? Or by our need to psychoanalyze them? Have we romance readers and writers become so determined to validate our genre that we insist on stories free of all characters that smell even faintly of stereotypes? Has moral turpitude become so subjective that we must now be able to sympathize with each and every "misguided" soul?

I say no to all of it. To rejection of unpleasant people in romance. To fussy, PC dissections of bad guys' mental states. To the snobby assertion that they're all stereotypes. Let's face it, people who are alarmingly devoid of conscience exist in real life. I bet we all know/have known some. Bad apples appear in both genders and all orientations, and their self-absorption can be damned odious as well as destructive.

Frankly, I miss villains (sorry for the simplistic term, but I think you know the kinds of characters I mean). That's why I often include unlikable and conniving people in my books. I believe we need such players -- depending on the nature of the story, of course -- in romance. Antagonists add conflict, dramatic tension, gravitas. They can serve as foils for the good guys, can challenge and test and teach them. In fact, they can propel entire plotlines. And they've done so throughout the history of literature.

Hell, they've done so throughout the history of humanity.

I've had a variety of nasty characters in my books, and I've loved imagining all of them. Some have terrifying supernatural abilities: Joseph Beaudry, the bokor (Voodoo priest) in To Be Where You Are; the sorcerer Bezod in Carny's Magic; several of the strange beings in the Utopia-X series. Most, however, are entirely human. They just happen to be self-serving shitheads: C. Everett Hammer III in Jude in Chains; father and son sociopaths, Karl and Kenneth, in Bastards and Pretty Boys; the stage illusionist known as the Turk, and the shady sugar-daddy Edgar Jonns in Mobry's Dick; businessman Alphonse Hunzinger in Mongrel; the two pedophiles in Xylophone (although I can't say I enjoyed imagining them; it was difficult and distasteful). I have another one coming up in Ben Raphael's All-Star Virgins, releasing September 25.

Occasionally, if I think it's relevant, I'll delve into a villain's background or dig into his mind. Usually, though, I don't. Not too far, anyway. Why? Because villains are rarely primary characters. Biographical and psycho-emotional  detail should be reserved for the MCs. When writers try too hard to "three-dimensionalize" their bad guys, who are almost always secondary characters, it blurs a story's focus. Conveying a sense of what drives them (psychopathy, greed, ego, bigotry, religious fervor, sexual obsession, etc.) is enough. This doesn't mean antagonists have to be shorn of personality or believability, just that their internal landscapes shouldn't overshadow the MCs'.

So, do you say "yea" or "nay" to villains in romance fic? Do you accept them in fantasies and paranormals but not in contemporaries? If so, why? Do you insist on a thorough examination of their lives and motives? And here's a sticky issue: must m/m romance writers, in particular, avoid casting women in a bad light? Why, if all females aren't moral exemplars? (And, heaven knows, we sure aren't!)


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Interview and Giveaway!



On  Saturday September 6, I'll be Meredith's guest at the Diverse Reader blog. I'm being interviewed and I'm giving away an ebook -- your choice of any title, as long as it's mine ;-). But you don't have to hustle your butt over there on Saturday; the giveaway runs through the following Friday, September 12. See? Lots of time! 

The winning entrant will of course be chosen at random. So please stop by for your chance to grab a freebie! You can find all my available books at my my website. Or you can scroll down the right sidebar here on my blog. Hope to see you at Diverse Reader!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Have I been writing Bummer Fic?

My next release will be on September 25, and it will be this one (which you can currently pre-order for a mere $2.79 because it's a young adult story! Oh, and the same YA sale at Dreamspinner / Harmony Ink also includes The Zero Knot. The reduced prices will be in effect through the end of August.)

Now that the announcements are out of the way, let's move on to the title of this post.

I have the impression some readers are avoiding Resurrection Man, my August 6 release, because they assume it's depressing. They'll probably think the same of Ben Raphael's All-Star Virgins. I can't blame them, really, because the blurbs for both books contain certain words and phrases that don't exactly scream happy-happy, joy-joy

But here's the thing. We writers of GLBTQ* fiction, whether romance or not, seem to have a penchant for tackling unpleasant subjects: bullying and bashing, HIV/AIDS, childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, religious intolerance, social prejudice, family rejection, etc. As most of you surely know, such experiences are all too often a part of living outside the heteronormative mainstream. Some of us don't want to ignore how our characters' "otherness" has impacted their lives.

Okay, so there's that. There's reality, which can be damned harsh but which some authors respect nonetheless. I, for one, try not to shy away from it. But also keep this in mind: romance writers are committed to optimistic outcomes. Even if you see dreaded words and phrases in our book blurbs, rest assured we'll manage to extract some measure of hope and fulfillment for our main characters. (After all, many people enjoy their sweetest triumphs after suffering through trials that seem defeating but turn out not to be.) We're definitely not penning "Bummer Fic" (except, maybe, in smallish, digestible doses). We want our characters to grow and learn through adversity, and be rewarded for their endurance, as much as you do.   

So don't be skeered! We'll never put you through the wringer without fluffing you up at the end. ;-)


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Cover Reveal


Sixteen-year-old Jake McCullough and his buddies Rider, Brody, Carlton, and Tim feel like the invisible boys of Ben Raphael Academy, an exclusive coed prep school. Teachers and fellow students look through them, not at them. Brody decides they need “mystique” to garner attention and admiration, especially from girls. “Nobody has more mystique than a desirable virgin,” he declares. Thus is born Ben Raphael’s All-star Virgin Order or BRAVO.

The five friends polish their physical appearances. Brody launches a subtle but canny publicity campaign. Soon, the formerly invisible boys are indeed being noticed. The pinnacle of their acceptance seems to come in the form of invitations to the Valentine’s Day dance.

But the young men’s motives are more complex than they appear to be. For different reasons and to different degrees, all the BRAVO members are emotionally fragile. Two have already taken wrong turns in their quest for affirmation and succumbed to a seductive female teacher. Jake and Rider, roommates and best friends, are attracted to each other but balk at declaring their feelings; they fear the stigma of being gay.

Virginity, it turns out, comes in different guises. An unspeakable tragedy pushes the BRAVO boys, and Jake and Rider in particular, across the threshold from innocence into experience and makes them realize what’s truly important in life.

~ Coming September 25 from Harmony Ink ~

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

More Book Info

Resurrection Man now has a Goodreads page and is also a Dreamspinner "Coming Soon" book, which means it's available for preorder.

A month or so after RM's August 6 publication, Harmony Ink will release another of my stories, Ben Raphael's All-Star Virgins. It's a YA tale in which the word virgin proves to have more than one meaning.

I'm currently working on the infidelity story I've been wanting to write for quite some time. I know this is an unpopular subject in romance fiction, but, like other unpleasant aspects of contemporary life, I feel it needs to be addressed -- and done so with hope.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

99-cent Book and New Blurb


On July 9, as part of their Christmas in July promotion, Dreamspinner Press will be offering one of my books for 99 cents. It's a substantial savings, believe me, but will only be in effect for 24 hours. Go to the publisher's home page to see what's available each day of the month and to score my cheapie on the ninth.

And . . . four weeks from now, Resurrection Man will be released. Directly below is the blurb. The Prologue follows. (You'll get to read a much longer excerpt once the book is officially for sale.)

Blurb

Bad enough Elijah Colter’s life of comfort comes to an abrupt end when he’s 17 and his family discovers he’s gay. Bad enough he must live out of his car and turn tricks. But when his perfect boyfriend, Alonzo, becomes the victim of a drive-by shooting, Elijah plummets into suicidal depression. The concepts of trust and hope become more alien to him than ever.

All that keeps Elijah going is a promise he made: that he would look after Alonzo’s stepdad, Dizzy, who’s on the verge of losing his house.

Diz and Elijah become companions in homelessness—until Elijah discovers a program for throwaway LGBT youth. Through it he gets his own apartment… then loses it, along with his fragile self-esteem, after a year. He’s kept his promise, though, and until he can get back on his feet, he’s resigned to joining Dizzy in the abandoned factory the older man calls home.

One fall day, pair of new presences in Elijah's life promise to shape his future: Michael Hanlan, an outreach volunteer, and what appears to be Alonzo's ghost. Both prompt Elijah to decide which of his dreams to pursue, which to cast aside, and just how much he can dare to believe in love, and in himself, again.

Prologue  

“Dust is soil with the life sucked out of it.”

My Great-grandpa Cyrus, born in southwestern Kansas in 1921, spent the early years of his life discovering this truth. He whittled away at the huge, shapeless horror that was the High Plains in the 1930s until he got down to something he could recognize, something that made sense to him.
When he was in the middle of his growing-up years, Cy didn’t see anything as pure as what he thought Truth should be. He only saw mountainous dark goblins of grit fill the sky, over and over again. They lumbered in from whatever direction the wind determined, bearing down on homesteads and wheat fields, shedding scales of thick misery.
One typically parched afternoon beneath a typically brown-veiled sky, the local men gathered in town to consider hiring a rainmaker. Cy was at the meeting with his pa, although he wasn’t old enough to have too many opinions about too much of anything or to open his mouth and expect anyone to listen. By then they were three years into the invasion. The goblins kept coming with dismal regularity, kept dropping their deadly freight. A roller had just passed through a few days earlier. Each building looked gray and beaten. Even cavorting tumbleweeds were scarce. Farmers had been hoarding them to feed their withered cattle. And even to feed their families, when worse came to worst.
But trying to bust water out of the sky with dynamite? Cy’s pa was dead set against making so risky an investment. The Depression had settled in along with the dust. Money was tight. Besides, “The drough ain’t the real problem,” he said to his neighbors. “We kilt the land. Dust is soil with the life sucked out of it. Dust is the earth’s haint.”
Bonanza Bill Lawton spoke up. “So what we s’posed to do? Persuade Jesus Christ to breathe life back into it?”
“We’ve all tried contacting him a thousand times,” a wag named Pokey Stiles drawled. “Seems he ain’t takin’ our calls.”
After their meeting, while the farmers continued to jawbone outside the feed store, Cy squatted and scooped up a handful of the powder that covered everything in sight. He let it sift through his perpetually dirty fingers as he thought of his father’s words. Finally, Truth appeared, right there in his palm.
The stretches of prairie his ma described so wistfully, the waving buffalo grass and rustling bluestem and nodding flowers, had lain belly-up for years. This dust was its ghost, relentless and punishing.
“’Spect you got every right to dog us,” he whispered.

 Swhat form does the haint of a ruined life take? Maybe this form, blotchy-ink and smeared-pencil scrawls on mismatched pieces of paper. But they’re better than nothing. They’re better than the hole in my soul, and better than oblivion.
Maybe.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cover Reveal



With renewed determination, I studied my surroundings: the 
littered floor and heaps of trash and corroded, useless fixtures; the personal caves constructed from crap. I could be a lot worse off than this, but I wasn’t going to settle for it. I wasn’t going to settle for anything or anybody ever again.

… I couldn’t suppress a private smile. How ironic that amid so much decay, I’d found the most effective resurrection man of all.





Coming August 6 from Dreamspinner Press.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dicks with Dicks

Those of us who've been around the m/m romance genre for a while are familiar (probably more than we'd like to be) with some readers' aversion to what they call "chicks with dicks." These readers seem to think that gay heroes who exhibit certain characteristics -- emotional vulnerability or sensitivity, usually, although other traits have also come under fire -- are too much like the heroines of traditional m/f romances. 

I won't go into another rant about how offensive I find that attitude, because the subject's pretty much been beaten to death, but it has led me to wonder about the opposite character type. Why don't readers object to that one?

It's been my experience that hyper-masculine gay men are more the exception than the rule. In fact, I've never known any. Yet the genre is packed with heartless assassins and hardboiled government agents, with mercenaries and muscle-bound members of elite military units and other cold-eyed, coldblooded extreme Alpha males who face death regularly with nary a blink.

Okay, let's pause here and have another look at m/f romance stereotypes. But this time, let's look at some of the heroes. Specifically, those tough, stoical, domineering, manly men who are often downright mean-'n'-nasty. They'll bend to no one's will -- except when their hearts are softened by the nurturing love (and magic hoohah) of Just The Right Woman.

They're real dicks, these guys. They're (you got it!) dicks with dicks.

Why have m/m readers never found this stereotype offensive? Has it never occurred to people who've squawked about "chicks with dicks" that "dicks with dicks" is a far more obvious holdover from category romance as well as far less representative of the gay population as a whole? Haven't they realized they're being just a tad hypocritical?

By the way, I don't object to any kind of gay/bi/trans male character -- Highlander, house husband, Viking, twink, special ops soldier, drag queen, murderous paranormal creature -- as long as he's well-drawn and believable. That doesn't mean I don't have character preferences (I definitely do). It simply means I hate seeing readers fling around pejorative labels without thinking them through.


    

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Release Day!


Three relationships in danger.
One must be sacrificed.
Will that be enough to save the other two?


Machine, the final book in the Mongrel trilogy (paranormal steampunk), now available from Dreamspinner Press and all major ebook outlets. 
Go to the publisher's site
to read a blurb and extended excerpt.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Contract, New Review

First, my heartfelt gratitude to Lynn at World of Diversity Fiction for posting a review of Merman (Mongrel #2). What a pleasant surprise! Thank you, Lynn, for taking the time to read my book and share your thoughts on it. Anyone who likes Clancy Marrowbone is okay by me. ;-)

A reminder to everybody: Machine (Mongrel #3) is coming out on April 30. You can currently preorder it at 25% off the list price.

Aaaaand . . . I've had a story accepted by Harmony Ink, Dreamspinner's YA imprint. Ben Raphael's All-star Virgins is a contemporary featuring five 16-year-old prep school friends. Release is scheduled for early fall.