I'm putting off my Tuesday Trope Down Memory Lane post (just for a little while) to extend my deepest gratitude to whichever reader(s) nominated XYLOPHONE for the Goodreads M/M Readers' Choice Awards in the following categories:
Best Hurt/Comfort Theme
Best Sex Industry (as a profession)
Thank you, dear readers!
Oh, and Anne Cain's cover for Merman was also nominated. So congratulations, again, to my favorite cover artist!
Guys can be vulnerable. Usually, the younger they are, the more vulnerable they can be. But even the most alpha of men can find themselves waist-deep in doodoo, whether it's of their own making or the result of someone else's machinations. At times like this, caring, determined support proves invaluable. It often comes in unexpected ways, from unexpected sources -- like unconventional heroes whose inner strength shines in times of crisis.
Below are three contemporaries, two with a paranormal elements, in which the patience, persistence, and courage of unassuming men become the salvation of those they love.
Bastards and Pretty Boys
A lakeside summer idyll, a budding romance
. . . and jealousy gone horribly awry.
Charles Larkin is finally happy with his
life. For the most part. He’s happy with his new summer getaway—a
rustic cottage he just bought on a small Wisconsin
lake. He’s happy that his ex-wife, whom
he divorced because he couldn’t play straight anymore, has become one of his
best friends. He’s happy he can breathe again.
It’s only Kenneth, Charlie’s boyfriend of
five months, who makes this new life less than completely satisfying. Charlie feels they’ve never been quite right for
each other, and Kenneth cements that conviction when he makes a disturbing
confession. Charlie knows their time
together is quickly coming to an end.
Problem is, Kenneth doesn’t know it. And he tends to be rather
Planning to spend a quiet, relaxing two or
three weeks at his cottage, Charlie is less than thrilled to notice that his
nextdoor neighbor is one hell of a looker.
He doesn’t need that kind of distraction.
Only, Booker isn’t going anywhere, and he
isn’t that easily ignored. And neither is his unexpected, none-too-savory
baggage. And neither, for that matter, is Charlie's. But when two people care enough about each
other, they figure out how to help carry such baggage . . . or cast it aside.
What happens to a young man's self-image, and his sex
life, when he wakes up one morning to see his good looks significantly altered
for the worse? Three twenty-something
gay friends--an embalmer, a performance coach, and a literary agent--find out
the answer when they hit on the wrong patron of a club one night.
Todd, Fallon, and Jake, aka the Hunt Club, think they're
pretty damned hot. As a result, their standards for worthwhile hook-ups are
appallingly superficial. The men aren't
total jerks; they just need an adjustment in perspective. And they get it, in
spades, from a mysterious stranger who's sick of seeing his beautiful partner
pawed by dogs.
There’s no medical explanation for the hideous rash that erupts
on the trio overnight. Doctors can’t even detect it, much less cure it. Still,
the Hunt Club’s mirrors reflect ravaged faces, and the toned, handsome guys
they normally pursue now shun them.
As the vulnerability that’s always lurked beneath their vanity
begins to surface, Todd, Fallon, and Jake begin to see themselves and potential
partners in a new light. Little did they know that in the eyes of three
ordinary, overlooked men on the sidelines of their lives, it's always
been the heart that’s mattered far more than the hot.
Carny Jessup here. Let me tell you a little about myself.
The best part of my life began when my aunt’s homophobic squeeze smashed his
fist into my face. This time, I didn't just take it. I already knew a wizard
named Jackson Spey lived on my side of town, so I figured I’d turn things
around by becoming his apprentice.
Problem was, Spey didn’t want an apprentice. He was going through a midlife
crisis. All he wanted was to build beautiful furniture and live in peace with
his beautiful husband, Adin. He still took me in, though. Guess he felt sorry
for me. And he was really intrigued by the red paths I’d been seeing in the
Hey, I’m only 19, so how could I have foreseen the rest? That I’d fall for a
breathtaking boy named Peter, who was at the center of some strange magic tied
to Jackson’s past. And I’d have to deal with a sorcerer named Bezod, an evil
pig who plagued all four of us and threatened to destroy our relationships.
Sometimes you just have to fight for what’s right. Like love. I might’ve been
new to the boyfriend gig and Jackson might’ve been a reluctant wizard, but when
the time came, we were ready to kick some supernatural ass.
A genre favorite, this theme. It's at the heart of a number of my stories, including Electric Melty Tingles, which features two college-age friends who must endure separation after declaring their love; Abercrombie Zombie, about a team of paranormal investigators who come together via the intervention of a very unusual stranger; Visible Friend in which a recovering junkie reconnects in a startling way with the best buddy he ever had; The Zero Knot, about two young men, close since childhood, who find the courage to fully define their bond. Finally, there is the Jackson Spey / Adin Swift saga, a friends-to-lovers tale of epic proportions -- or at least one that spans quite a few books. ;-)
Here's a sampling.
Electric Melty Tingles
It's August of 1970, and the friends of 21-year-old Oliver
Duncan are having a blast at his bachelor party. Except Ned Surwicki. He isn't
an Ivy Leaguer. He doesn't appreciate female strippers. And although he's been
Oliver's best friend since they were 14, Ned isn't much inclined to celebrate
his pal's impending marriage.
Ned is gay, something he's known since he kissed a boy and got the melty
tingles. Ned is also in love with the groom-to-be. Ned is miserable.
On the night before his wedding, Oliver realizes that he's miserable too. Of
course Ned comes to his rescue.
Thus begins a romance that spans forty years, requires one coming-out after
another, and survives a broken engagement, a menage with War and Pees, world
travel, an ill-advised marriage, scores of fuck buddies, a father who thinks
his son is destined to be a clone of Liberace, parents who reject their son,
and, worst of all, the failure of two misguided men to pursue their fondest
The most important coming-out for Ned and Oliver is summed up in a declaration
they spend too many years trying futilely to forget: "I love you. That's
never going to change."
A tale of life, love, death, and other mysteries of the
universe, including the importance of a good wardrobe.
Dead folks are the best friends of Quinn McConnell and Hunter Janz. Dead folks
pay the bills for this team of psychic mediums . . . but just barely. To make
it into the financial comfort zone, they need to outshine their competition.
Quinn needs even more than that. He’s been infatuated with his partner for the
nearly three years they've been together, and if he can’t either get over his
crush or make something happen with Hunter, they’ll have to split up. Sexual
tension and unrequited love can wreak havoc with a psychic’s reception.
Salvation comes hobbling along in the form of a well-dressed but
ravaged-looking man who can clearly see and converse with the dearly departed.
Why? Because, he claims, he has something in common with them: He’s also been
dead. The zombie who calls himself Dustin DeWind needs the psychics’ help in
finding the man who made him what he is. In return, he promises to steer them
toward the often elusive spirits that are their stock in trade.
But something more goes on when Quinn and Hunter forge an uneasy alliance with
Dustin DeWind. It seems he’s also nudging them toward each other.
Only 24, Christopher Borgasian has made a drastic and terrifying change
in his life. He's turning his back on a lover he'd adored for three years. The
breakup required more than regretfully spoken words; it was an arduous process
that took over seven months. Now it's time for Chris to see if he can make it
on his own. Without heroin.
Without much of anything, really. Chris's family rejected him nearly a decade
ago when he came out, and his drug buddies, never true friends to begin with,
are now off-limits. Chris Borgasian, gay recovering junkie, is alone with his
The night before he leaves a sober-living facility to pursue his uncertain
future, a stranger named Denny shows up in his room ... then vanishes as
mysteriously as he'd appeared. From that night on, Denny keeps returning,
suddenly and inexplicably, whenever Chris battles temptation, self-doubt, or
feelings of isolation. This handsome young man isn't an angel, but his identity
still strains credulity.
Believing in Denny means, for Chris, believing in the magical strength of a
child's longing -- for the invisible made visible, the imaginary turned real,
and, most incredible of all, the possibility of unquestioning acceptance and
The Domino Club -- a teenage version of a secret society,
formed by four small-town friends to explore their bisexuality. Two years into
his membership, Jess Bonner has had enough. He isn’t bi, he’s gay, but he’s
just been afraid to admit it. He’s also an 18-year-old bound for college and
bent on making a break from pretense.
When Dylan “Mig” Finch admits he’s also gay and fed up with the club, he and
Jess give in to a mutual attraction that’s been building for years. Mig isn’t
college-bound, but he’s one of the finest people Jess has ever known.
As the young men struggle to define their relationship and determine their
priorities, forces they can’t seem to control keep tripping them up: sexual
appetite, personal insecurities, fear of discovery, and more.
They need clarity. They need courage. Just as they’re on the verge of finding
both, an act of vindictive jealousy sends one of them to jail. All their
hard-won victories are in danger of falling to dust.
The only way to save what they have is to recognize and declare it for what it
is . . . and fight for its integrity.
The only news I have to report is that I sent in my contract for Machine, thefinal novel in the Mongrel trilogy. Naturally, Dreamspinner will be publishing it. And I'm still plugging away at my contemporary WIP, Resurrection Men, which now stands at 25k words.
So . . . I thought I'd fire up my time machine and take readers for a leisure ride through my literary past -- in other words, Ye Olde Backlist. I've been so preoccupied with my steampunk storyverse this past year, I sometimes lose sight of the fact I've written quite a few contemporaries and paranormals.
In the following weeks, starting tomorrow, I'll introduce you to them, divided by theme: Friends to Lovers, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Men for Sale, Faith vs. Freedom, and Self-Acceptance, and Faith vs. Freedom. Consider this series of posts a kind of Snowy Days Sampler. ;-)
Publish a book in December if you can help it, unless the story is holiday-related. Seriously. It will get lost. Readers won't associate it with the year in which it was actually published (because, in their minds, they've done all their "serious" reading for the year and are focused on holiday offerings), but they won't associate it with the following year, either. I've seen how Xylophone slipped through the cracks because it was published on December 12.
I'm currently writing my first contemporary since Xylophone. Its tentative title is Resurrection Man. (Rainmaker is also a possibility.) It's about a young guy who's lost his first love to gun violence and, in honor of his boyfriend's memory, feels obligated to look after the deceased youth's now-homeless stepfather, an aging black man who goes by the name of Dizzy and shuns shelters.
I've worked out most of the details. Never fear, the young MC and his elderly companion will NOT be a romantic couple. In fact, I haven't even decided if this will be a standard romance with a standard HEA or HFN ending. I'm still getting a better feel for the characters -- seeing how they think, act, react, interact. But I'm not worried about wrapping it up in a way that's appropriate. ;-) So . . . here's Elijah Colter, introducing his story.
“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
got 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 drouth 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 jawboned a little
more 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
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.
So what 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.
Is finished (51,200 words as it stands). I sent it off today.
This final story in my fantasy-steampunk trilogy centers on Fanule Perfidor, the central character in Mongrel. He must confront unsettling truths about himself. They have to do with his illness (bipolar disease), strengths, weaknesses, and, most significantly, an aspect of his past he's never come to terms with. In the process, he puts his relationship with Will Marchman, and Will himself, in jeopardy.
Simon Bentcross goes through a similar ordeal. Although his storyline is secondary in this book, it mirrors Fanule's in many ways.
Most of Machine takes place in Taintwell. However, the Marvelous Mechanical Circus makes a farewell appearance, as does its "Gutter" or Caravan Park. Fanule's ghostly healer friend, Lizabetta, plays a significant role. More of her past, too, comes to light.
Throughout, things are not always what they seem. Villainy comes in unexpected forms; redemption, in unexpected ways. In the end, Lizabetta tells Fanule, "You know, dear Fan, you've not only earned your title, you've infused it with meaning. 'Eminence of Taintwell' no longer sounds pompous and silly. It sounds majestic. And it suits you." What's much more important to Fan, though, is being the finest man, and partner, he can be.
Here's an unedited excerpt.
The plaza was all but deserted
by mid-afternoon. Sellers and speech-makers had begun trickling away just after
lunch, when the throng of browsers thinned. Some visitors sought further
entertainment within the Marvelous Mechanical Circus; others, their appetite
for novelty sated, went elsewhere.
The affable inebriant
Ernest Muggins simply got up, walked away from his table, and never returned.
All he’d taken with him was his tin.
Will had just finished closing
and locking his cart when a shadow fell over him, chilling the air. He looked
up. Instantly, his breath caught.
The owner of the
Spiritorium loomed beside him. As if that sight weren’t unnerving enough, the
man fixed him with intense violet eyes. “You exude the scent of Quam Khar,” he
said without introduction or preface. “It’s faint but still detectable. Yet,
you’re not Quam Khar. You haven’t the depth or complexity. You haven’t the dark
corners where broken wings beat.”
What on earth was he
talking about? Dumbfounded, Will stared. He tried to assume a neutral
expression, but he’d always failed miserably at concealing his reactions. “I…
no, I’m not Quam Khar.” Surely, Will thought, he looked far too ordinary to
have such an unusual name.
The man didn’t answer,
didn’t move. “Who’s your wife?” He stated the question quite unabashedly, as if
he had every right to ask it.
“N-no one. I’ve never
been married. I’m a bachelor.”
The man’s eyes narrowed.
Will’s insides shriveled. Coldly slicing into him, layer by layer, that
surgical gaze seemed to go on forever. “Not lawfully wed, eh? Then you’re a
fornicator who preys on Out-dwellers. That’s
what you are. A user of the Blesséd Damned.” He took a step forward. “What’s
Will blinked as his
befuddlement, and his discomfiture, deepened. “I beg your pardon?”
“The woman. What’s her
“I’m afraid I have no idea
to whom you’re referring.” Or what the
hell you’re talking about! Trying to still his quaking hands, Will pulled
up the handle of his cart. “Now I must take my leave of you, sir. I have other
“No doubt.” The man
inclined his head. “Perhaps we’ll meet again, Master Marchman.”
Not if I can help it, Will thought as he hastily pushed his
much-lighter cart toward the Circus’s employee entrance.
What do people love lists? I can only speak for myself. Lists serve as crutches for my memory. They prevent instances of "Oh, crap. I forgot to get those cheese-filled franks to supplement my fat and sodium intake! If only I'd made a shopping list!"
But what's with "best" lists? I don't understand them. Choosing a best anything has always been nigh impossible for me. Why? Because I haven't been exposed to every possible choice in any given category. "Greatest Books of the Twenty-first Century." How the fuck can I, or anybody else, choose? 1.) The century is far from over. 2.) Even if the century were over, I wouldn't have lived through all of it. 3.) Even if the century were over and I did live through all of it, I guarantee I wouldn't have read every book published.
Maybe "best" lists are an extension of the CLAPMO (Crazily Love Always Pimping My Opinions) syndrome. That must be it. Because, like me, nobody who votes on these things has seen every cover or read every book in each of the categories -- which essentially makes every vote invalid.
Except the votes I get, 'cause I don't get many. ;-)
But, okay, we have to live with this system. So I think we can at least add some snappier Listopia lists to the 9,533 that already exist on Goodreads for gay fiction and m/m romance. Like:
Best Cover That Features an Enema Gone Wrong
Best Gay Stories That Could Conceivably, if Slightly Rewritten, Involve Humanoid Alpha Spiders w/ Silly Grins
Books Guaranteed to Make You Barf if You Read Them While Eating Greek Yogurt or Marmite
Best "I Don't Give a Shit About Editing; I Just Wanted to Get It Out There" Self-published Stories
Books That Should Be Made Into Movies -- But Only if I Can Make the Movies and Include All My Favorite Perversions
Best My Little Pony Slash
Best Dennis Rodman/Kim Jong Un Slash
Best Andy Warhol Lookalike Heroes
Covers That Make You Put a Finger to Your Chin and Go "Hmm, Why Does He Have Hair in That Spot?"
Best Scratch 'n' Sniff Stories
Books I Could Write Better, 'Cause the Authors Are Nitwits
Ugh. (Sorry, but I'm a Nitwit and Couldn't Come Up with a Better List Name.)
For the third time, Charlie Hunnam has given me a Sad. I'm done with him.
Remember when he played Nathan in the British series Queer as Folk? (It was originally titled Queer as Fuck, which I like waaaaay better, but that subject is what's called a "tangent," so we won't go there.) In case you never saw the British version, Nathan's counterpart in the American QaF was named Justin and played by Randy Harrison. He got it on quite frequently and steamily with Gale Harold.
But back to Charlie Hunnam. He was only 18 or 20 then, and he was a knockout. The song "Sexy Boy" by Air served as his character's leitmotif. (Don't bother watching the video; it's amateurish and obnoxious. Just listen to that hypnotic refrain.) I became a bit smitten by the character of Nathan, his storyline, and his theme song. In fact, they inspired me to write a particular novella and give it the title it has: precious_boy.
I confess, I kind of felt like this when I watched QaF and Charlie appeared on screen:
But, uh-oh. He dealt me my first Sad when I discovered he was straight. Because shitdamn, he was mighty hot in those scenes with the dark-haired dude whose name escapes me (another straight guy -- Jesus, like there aren't any good GAY actors?) But I compensated for my disappointment when I wrote precious_boy. Ethan Benz-Collier will neverturn out to be straight.
Then Charlie Hunnam disappeared from my radar, and life went on.
Much to my surprise, he reappeared . . . vastly altered. He had a rounder face. And unflattering whiskers. His blond hair had darkened to the color of an old tooth, a development made more unfortunate by liberal applications of dirt, sweat, and/or "product."
Okay, I got it: the sexy boy had grown into a badass biker who, between slaking his thirst for vengeance, made out with women. A second Sad descended. I tried watching "Sons of Anarchy," I did, but 1.) it was full of violence and 2.) sweet Nathan had turned into an old rugby ball patched with matted grass. I just couldn't get into it.
The third and worst Sad, though, came today when I found out Charlie will be playing Christian Grey opposite a vapid-looking actress in the (inevitable, I suppose) 50 Shades movie. What the sacred fuck? I suppose there's a good amount of money in it, and I can't fault him for trying to cash in. But I guarantee I won't be seeing that film.