Monday, November 23, 2015

Is it possible to be TOO forgiving?

I suspect most of you have heard by now that the author/artist/blogger known as Thorny Sterling has outed himself as a poseur. (For ease of expression I'm going to use male pronouns, although it's entirely possible this individual is female.) Thorny's life is a fiction. The ensemble cast with which he populated that life -- Jazz, Alec, Carter, Grams, Mores, etc. -- are all made up.

I've lost count of the number of m/m romance writers who've fessed up to misrepresenting themselves over the years, at least to a limited degree. None of those other instances particularly bothered me unless plagiarism was involved. After all, ours is a unique genre; it draws writers of all genders (yes, all; I'm abandoning the binary) and orientations. Sometimes we stretch the truth to make it fit our self-images. Or we shroud our true identities for personal and/or professional reasons. For the record, I've never BS'ed anybody about anything except my name. But that doesn't mean other authors don't have perfectly valid reasons, whether practical or emotional, for their benign biographical fictions.

Which brings us back to Thorny Sterling. At first his post puzzled me, because he gives a number of different and equally specious reasons for launching his Grand Deception. (I'll get back to that in a minute.) When I read through the comments, I became even more puzzled. Most everybody was giving him "attaboy" pats on the back and expressing their support. Why? Because they found his posts entertaining and sometimes instructive. And they were charmed by his "Sunshine" persona. And they liked how his other blog characters were written. Then they expressed their good wishes for his future, and some even wanted to hear more from him and, yes, be his friend. In other words, they viewed his biographical fictions as benign. But were they?

"You're a big fat bullshitter who's misled a whole lot of people, but that's okay! You're still cool! Honesty isn't my default setting for relationships!"



This Thorny, this oh-so-endearing make-believe twink, catfished a large and diverse group of people. And he indeed hurt many of them. He didn't just lie his ass off, he kept embroidering his lies and betraying his friends' trust. He invented a suicide and passed it off as real. He invented a disabled veteran and passed him off as real. If you don't believe this kind of shit crosses a line, you need to rethink your line-crossing criteria. The most compassionate of Thorny's followers were reduced to tears by some of his stories. The most generous sent him money and gifts. (It appears he even had a button somewhere for "donations." I doubt any were returned.) So, yeah, these weren't benign lies. People were wounded by them. In a variety of ways.

I used to read his blog in its early days; I found it refreshing and often amusing. Then came a rather startling surge of self-importance in li'l' Sunshine . . . and it was at that point I got suspicious and backed away. Thorny's modest accomplishments certainly didn't justify the creation of a cult, but that was what he seemed to be aiming for. I watched incredulously from the sidelines as an alleged kid in his early twenties began behaving like a seasoned sales-promotion specialist. The Cult of Thorny quickly expanded, and not just around an updated Winesburg, Ohio (maybe I should say Our Town, which was written by his namesake), but also around an impressive array of products and services. His craptastic, derivative novella even got reviewed at both USA Today and Dear Author, and its cover won a Rainbow Award.

Suddenly, a naive and insecure college student was proving himself capable of some pretty savvy marketing.

But more was never enough. The con continued. The adoration and, probably, the money kept pouring in. I felt ever hinkier about him and so continued to avoid his blog.

Until yesterday, when one of my Facebook friends mentioned Thorny's online confession (which came, as confessions are wont to do, only after someone caught him out). I pondered his mishmash of excuses and kept coming back to one sentence: "I knew even then [2010] that gay boys got all the attention." And there, I'm convinced, is the motivation for his lengthy and elaborate con.

Whoever Thorny Sterling really is, he was astute enough to realize what suckers m/m romance readers and writers are for Real Live Gay Boys, especially if those boys know how to work the crowd. And this blogger sure as hell knew how to do that. It's fairly clear from his mea culpa post that generating income was a major factor in the decision to invent Thorny and, ultimately, turn him into a cash cow. Of course, generating attention, doting attention, was the first step in the process. Our Hydra-headed impostor became expert at that, too. The attention and accolades and dollars soon rolled in, and likely would've kept rolling in if the fraud hadn't been exposed.

I guess you know my answer to the question posed in this post's title. Yes. Rarely have I been so put off by a community member's behavior that I've publicly condemned it, but this is one of those occasions. So, in the name of genuine GLBTQ* folks who are struggling; in the name of actual disabled veterans who are struggling; in the name of every struggling person for whom despair has or will become a one-way ticket to suicide (as well as the loved ones of such stricken people); in the name of all tender-hearted allies who were royally and repeatedly duped . . . fuck you, "T". I hope you go away and stay away.

P. S. According to people on Facebook, "Thorny Sterling" is a woman. I don't know her name, though.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Big Project

Published authors, or at least some of us, tend to get squirrelly after our books are out for a while. We're bugged by their covers, especially if they misrepresent characters. Uncorrected errors in the text become as persistently annoying as head lice. We think of things we should've left out of the story or put in story, or whole sections we wished we'd written differently. We repeatedly curse ourselves for our lack of foresight. And, of course, reader interest drops off precipitously within the first year after release -- if there was ever much reader interest to begin with -- and that, too, becomes irksome.

I've wrestled with all those issues and one more: the fact that circumstances have conspired since 2007 to prevent a related group of my stories (novels and novellas) to be issued by the same publisher at, say, two-month intervals, with covers that have a similar look. Yeah, the books probably should've been treated as a series.

Smart writers with tech savvy, or who make enough money to hire people with tech savvy, figured out years ago that the only way to have full control over one's creative output is to self-publish. I'm not sure I'm up to it in terms of patience and know-how, but I'll soon be venturing into this terrifying realm. I'm already having nightmares about it.

The details are on my website. Rather than repeat them all, I'll give you this link.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

La Boucle Parfaite -- Wow!

I didn't make this myself -- honest! Just came upon a link in my Twitter feed. Although I can't yet find this French translation of The Zero Knot on the Dreamspinner site, I assume the ARC is already available. What a thrill!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flash Sale! 25% Discount at ARe

All Loose Id titles, mine included, are 25% off today only at All Romance eBooks. As I mentioned on Facebook, my sentimental favorite is Electric Melty Tingles, which also happens to be the cheapest. I've forgotten why the second chapter is the excerpt. (Kind of odd, eh?) Anyway, here's how the book begins. It was well-received by reviewers when it was first released in 2010. Don't know if that means much, but there ya go.

Chapter One

Louie was, I swear, the hardest-working woman in show business. Not like James Brown was the hardest-working man in show business, although her splits did put his to shame. As I watched her hit the floor again, like a drafting compass with a broken hinge, I could almost feel my testicles parting company and landing like finials on either side of my pelvis. The other men at Oliver Duncan’s bachelor party must’ve felt the same; they all winced in unison, even as they cheered.
“Louie, Louie,” the dancer’s none-too-original signature song, grated out of a battered 8-track player. I amused myself by sipping a martini at the wet bar and watching Oliver’s reactions to the bumping, grinding, and boob jiggling going on just inches from his face. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Flushed to his hairline, he chortled and squirmed. Then he teasingly stuck out his tongue as Louie began undoing his necktie and unbuttoning his shirt.
That’s when I began to squirm. Suddenly, the scene wasn’t so amusing anymore. I was watching someone undress and fondle my best friend. I was watching Oliver behave in a sexually suggestive way, which was something I’d never before had to witness. Seeing his interaction with the dancer wasn’t the same as accepting the fact he was getting married. The most I’d seen him do with Naomi, his betrothed, was put an arm around her or give her a rather sanitized peck now and then. Louie, however, was coaxing out his inner beast. Coaxing out Oliver’s inner beast was something only I was allowed to do. In the privacy of my imagination.
I looked around the enormous, handsome hotel suite for some distraction. None was available. I couldn’t even engage in drunkenly senseless conversation, since every pair of eyes in the room was trained on the stripper.
“Excuse me,” I said to the bow-tied bartender. He was a little older than I, maybe in his mid twenties, and none too shabby. But he, too, was distracted. I leaned farther across the bar. “Excuse me.”
Yeah, the deaf SOB was straight, like everybody else at this godforsaken bash.
His gaze flickered reluctantly in my direction.
“Could I have another one, please?”
Why the hell not? I didn’t have to drive home. A limo was at the ready to shuttle around whichever party-goers weren’t staying at the hotel.  Oliver’s father wasn’t only footing the bill for this suite at the Pfister, the drinks, and the dancers, he’d arranged for safe transportation.
 Christ, what a night. I glanced through wreathing cigarette smoke in Oliver’s direction. Louie was sitting on his lap now, her legs on either side of his hips, and doing a slow hump as Smokey Robinson crooned, “Ooh, baby, baby.” I looked away. Nope, this wasn’t so much fun anymore.
My gaze wandered to the windows. Outside, city lights sparkled in the darkness of the August night. I would’ve rather been out on the Avenue, cruising for sailors. Not that I’d ever cruised for anybody, much less men in uniform, but I’d heard about such things. The sailors came to Milwaukee regularly from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and sauntered down the sidewalks in pairs and groups. They were as much a part of the cityscape as the glowing Weather Flame atop the Wisconsin Gas building.
To me, anyway.
I’d often watched them—cute caps set at jaunty angles above their dress blue jumpers, Vs of white undershirts visible at their necklines, pants hugging their round asses—and thought they looked like fuckable dolls. I had no clue how to interpret each man’s swagger, no clue what it was that set the gay ones apart or how exactly to go about approaching them. So I simply watched and dreamed and, back at home, sometimes jerked off while I imagined a bold recruit smiling at me as he took off his hat. The hat removal was, in my fantasies, always an invitation, the prelude to an indescribably thrilling encounter.
“Hiya, cutie.”
Startled, I jerked to the right. A dazzling, gap-toothed grin and cloud of perfume hit me. At my side stood a woman in a neon-pink negligee. Her hand smoothed circles onto my back. She had straight, bluish black hair only slightly longer than her glued-on eyelashes.
“Uh…hello.” I had to be polite. It was Oliver’s bachelor party, and his father had put out beaucoup bread for it.
“I’m Krysti,” chirped my unwanted companion. “What’s your name?”
“Ned. Just…Ned.” Well, it wasn’t just Ned, but she didn’t need to know the Surwicki part.
As my attention funneled back to the party, I remembered that Louie wasn’t alone. Oliver’s older brother Darryl had hired a troupe of three dancers. Flame-haired Louie, vivacious as she was, couldn’t possibly cater to all nineteen men in attendance.
Krysti tucked some stray strands of hair behind my ear. I tried as inconspicuously as possible to inch backward.
“Wouldja like a little something special, Just Ned? Want me to boogaloo down your Broadway?” Her fingers danced down my shirtfront to the waistband of my trousers.
Uh-oh. A little something special from the Electric Eurydice didn’t appeal to me whatsoever. Not unless there was a sailor lurking beneath that lingerie.
Woooo, go for it, man!”
I tilted past Krysti to look in the direction of the voice, although I already knew whose voice it was. Oliver, who’d either slid or been pulled from his chair, sat on the floor with his shirt open and zipper down, waving a beer bottle. His hold on the neck was precarious. I worried the bottle might slip from his curled fingers and thump him on the head. He was trying to point at me but couldn’t seem to get his forefinger fully straightened.
From all indications, he was rip-roaringly drunk.
I’d never seen him like this. He drank, yeah, but never to excess. Considering the occasion, I supposed overindulgence was understandable. He was only doing what a man was supposed to do.
Being vulnerable to the charms of scantily clad women fell vaguely into the same category. As did getting married.
“Whatcha waiting for, Schnickelfritz?” he called out with a sloppy grin I found disarming as hell. “Get that cherry popped!”
Oh God, why did he have to holler about my cherry, and when was he going to stop calling me Schnickelfritz? Each one of us was only half German. Besides, it sounded so fucking silly. But I supposed there were worse names.
Krysti fired him a look. “We don’t do that sort of thing,” she said with snippy indignation. “We’re entertainers.”
“That’s okay,” I mumbled. “My cherry’s already been popped.” Not by a female, granted…
Louie, now sitting in the chair above Oliver and gliding her hands inside his open shirt, leaned over and whispered in his ear.
Oliver lifted his eyebrows and pulled down his mouth. “Pardon, mademoiselle,” he said to Krysti in perfect, slurred French. He swung his raised arm to his midsection to affect a bow of apology, but he swung it too hard. Beer shot out of the bottle and splashed onto Louie’s inner thigh. She yelped and fell backward, Oliver toppled onto his side, and the room erupted into hoots and guffaws.
“Excuse me,” I said to Krysti.
I hustled over to the guest of honor to make sure he was all right. Kneeling beside him, I eased the bottle out of his hand.
“Hope you’re planning to replace that,” he said as I got him to sit up.
“Don’t worry about it.” I twisted around and set the bottle on a cluttered coffee table. “Just worry about one of these bozos tripping over your ass.”
More music cut a tinny swath through the raised voices in the room. Stevie Wonder, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” To me, the song was like a bad portent. 
All three entertainers were dancing now, slinking and shimmying from man to man, trying to tease some reaction from their alcohol-saturated libidos. The third woman, a blonde named Misty, let Curtis Orton pluck maraschino cherries from her cleavage. Two guys on a loveseat pulled Krysti down between them, and Darryl Duncan, Oliver’s older brother and the temporary holder of the family purse strings, swayed with his hands on Louie’s hips. The fact he was married didn’t seem to deter him.
“They’ll do it for enough money, you know,” Oliver said to me. His hand rested on my leg.
“Do what?” I felt a little foggy myself.
“Handjob, blowjob, maybe even fuck. What’s-her-name just told me.”
Handjob, blowjob, fuck. Those words alone, coming from Oliver’s mouth, made a barbed tingle clutch at my groin. I wanted to lower him back to the floor, carefully crawl on top of him, and kiss him for hours on end as I finished the undressing that Louie had begun. Even disheveled, he was a knockout. His sable hair was charmingly mussed, his heavy eyelids gave the rich darkness of his irises a sultry cast, and his lips bore a scrim of moisture.
“I’m not interested,” I said, trying hard not to focus on his mouth.
 “Don’t be uptight about it. Money’s not an issue. And I’m pretty sure Darryl brought along a box of rubbers.”
“I wouldn’t be interested even if they were full-body rubbers.” It was the biggest hint I’d ever dropped, but it fell unnoticed. 
Shit, I’d wanted to get cozy with Oliver since we were fourteen years old. After almost seven years of longing, the most touch I’d ever gotten from him were playful shakes and friendly hugs and an occasional clap on the back or shoulder. Buddy stuff.      
Considering I’d had a deep, dark, smoldering crush on him since high school, buddy stuff was more tormenting than satisfying.
“Aw, c’mon, Ned, loosen up,” Oliver said, his hand moving aimlessly on my thigh, driving me crazy. “I want you to have a good time.”
“I’m having a good time just watching all you preppies get stupid.”
“Please don’t use that word. Ever since that stinko movie came out, I’ve been given enough shit just because of my name.”
He meant Love Story, of course. Ryan O’Neal’s character was named Oliver, and Ali McGraw as his snotty bitch of a girlfriend called him “Preppie.” The reference made me grin.
“I’ll lay off the word,” I said, “if you lay off trying to hook me up with some Salome.”
“Deal. So, you got a new secret love or what?” Oliver’s accompanying wink was so spazzy, I thought for moment he had something in his eye.
“I might.”
“Yeah?” Smiling, Oliver lifted his shirttail and daubed at a corner of my mouth.
Heat shot through me.
“Piece of pimiento from your olive,” he murmured.
He kept looking at me. His besotted, beguiling smile had shrunk and taken on a different quality. It made me feel way more than I wanted or needed to feel, especially on the eve of the eve of his wedding.
 A young man I didn’t know brought deliverance. He stumbled into us, grabbed Oliver by the shoulders, shook him, and bellowed, “Olé Ol-lie!”  
I squinted up at the numbskull. His cheeks puffed out as a belch apparently rumbled up from his stomach -- at least I hoped it was a belch -- and his head wobbled a little. The guy was one of Oliver’s friends from Dartmouth. I was out of their loop. I had a ponytail and went to Milwaukee School of Engineering and had always called Oliver, Oliver.
As Numbskull toddled away, Oliver suddenly clamped my face between his hands and gave me both the worst and best kiss of my life. Impishly, his smile widened for second. Then he bumbled off the floor like a sack of flour with feet, gave my head an affectionate rub, and wove through the room to receive more olés.
My lips prickled. I touched my fingers to them, trying to relive the feel of his mouth on mine, that startling silky softness and humid heat, the subtle poke of his whiskers. Of course there’d been no tongue. The kiss hadn’t been that kind of kiss. But it still had sucked the air right out of my lungs. And the room. And the entire atmosphere. If he did it again, I vowed, I would kiss him back and make it last. Fuck what people thought.
A hand appeared in front of my face, prompting me to look up. Smiling down at me was a clean-cut blond guy whose name I couldn’t remember.
“Need some help getting it up?”
I blinked at him. No, no, you moron. Not getting “it” up, just getting up. From the floor.
“No, thanks. I can manage.”
I bounced to my feet. The guy grabbed my shoulders to steady me.
“You look as out of place here as I feel,” he said affably. “No offense.”
I tried to gather my wits, but the effort wasn’t going well. “Yeah, well, I don’t go to Dartmouth.”
“I’m not a college guy either. My name’s Russ. Who’re you?”
“Ned. A friend of Oliver. From high school.” My attention finally found its way to Russ. He was broad-shouldered and very well built, and his neatly combed hair was shiny as a polished helmet.
We shook hands. His grip was so firm it made me reel a little. More and more he reminded me of…of…
One of those sailors.
“I don’t know anybody here,” Russ said. “I just work for Blumenthal’s. You know, the caterer.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “All I did was deliver the hors d’oeuvres. Then Darryl invited me to hang out.”
“Won’t you get in trouble with your employer?” Damn, my throat felt dry.
“Nah. I called him hours ago. Long as I get the van back in one piece, Felix don’t care how I spend the rest of the evening.” Russ looked toward the bar and the nearby hors d’oeuvre table. “Can I, uh…get you a drink or some food or something?”
“Thanks, but I’m set.” He was such a nice, simple guy and seemed so utterly guileless, I had trouble entertaining the notion he might be hitting on me. So maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he just felt obligated to earn his invitation to the party by doubling as a waiter. “I’m leaving soon, anyway.”
Russ’s smile collapsed. “You are?”
“Yeah. Oliver’s father hired a limo…”
“Oh. So you live in the city?”
“I have an apartment near MSOE.”
Nodding, Russ licked his lips. “I think I’ve seen you around.”
“Really? Where?” More to the point, why would he even remember me? I didn’t exactly look like Robert Redford.
Russ’s voice lowered. “Castaways. The Rooster.” His sky-blue eyes fixed on my face.
My lips parted; shock and germinal excitement had instantly made my breath go shallow. Castaways and the Rooster were queer bars. “What’re you saying?” I asked in a strained monotone.
“Just wondering if you’d like some company on that limo ride.”
[Chapter One continues from this point.]

Monday, July 13, 2015

She can see! She can see!

Well, not close-up. Not yet.

So . . . I've gone through two outpatient cataract surgeries. The first was a breeze: lasted only a few minutes, it seemed, and I didn't feel a thing. Better yet, the improvement in my vision was immediate and startling. The second operation, four days ago, was more stressful: took much longer (there was some kind of minor setback or complication), and I felt considerable discomfort. When I went in for my follow-up exam the next morning, I was anxious and dispirited. No instant improvement this time. In fact, no noticeable improvement at all, and I'd had a bit of discharge overnight. (TMI, I know. Sorry.)

The doc who does my exams is an older underling of the Grand Poobah whose eponymous practice is in the Madison area but has smaller "satellite" clinics. (The Grand Poobah motors into my area of the outback once a month to suction out old farts' cataracts and insert shiny new IOLs or intraocular lenses. That's his specialty. He's done roughly 26,000 of these operations.) Anyway, Old Doc peered into my right eyeball, found nothing alarming, and told me to give it time to heal. All eyes, he calmly assured me, respond differently to the procedure. "Just keep putting in your drops and wearing the shield at night." So that's what I've been doing. And, lo and behold, my vision is indeed improving! It still isn't 20/20 like my left eye, but it's waaaay better than before.

Once both eyes have thoroughly healed, I'll be fitted for new glasses. They'll be primarily for reading. Not sure yet if I'll need some degree of correction for working at the computer, since it's a mid-distance thing. But in any case, I'm thrilled with the difference thus far. I no longer have to wear glasses every waking hour because my world is immeasurably clearer, brighter, and more detailed.

If you've never been on the verge of blindness, you can't imagine what a joy it is to see colors in all their subtle-to-brilliant glory. To watch baby sparrows flitting around their birdhouse, and chipmunks chasing each other through the grass. To read menus posted at restaurant drive-throughs or behind their counters. To watch movies, peruse the offerings at a resale shop or rummage sale, spy on your neighbors!

Never take your senses for granted. Revel in them at every opportunity. :-)



Thursday, May 07, 2015

Update, and Another Great Sale!

Because I'm a "Year Three Author" at Dreamspinner Press (yeah, I've been with them since 2009), all my DSP titles will be 35% off from May 8 through May 14. To see what I have to offer -- view covers, and read blurbs and excerpts -- click on the link above.

On a more personal note, it's probably a good thing  I decided to go on sabbatical. Last month my eye doc discovered cataracts in both my eyes, which obviously explains why my vision has degenerated, At this point I couldn't write or edit a manuscript no matter how much I wanted to. (Just composing this post is a hell of an effort.) I had a WIP going, but continuing with it proved beyond my visual capability. Even reading is becoming difficult. (Thank goodness for my Kindle!) So . . . I'm facing cataract surgery. I suspect other stuff is wrong with me too, since I haven't seen a doctor in more years than I can count. (Thank you, American healthcare system!)

As many of you know from experience, any breakdown of one's body is stressful. When that breakdown is due to advancing age, which clearly isn't reversible, and finding rides to and from appointments is like trying to conjure cotton candy from the wind, the stress can lead to high anxiety and deep depression. If/when my physical problems are resolved, I'll post again. In the meantime you all take care, okay?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

A New Story with Old Characters

I've posted a free short on one of my blog's pages. "The Substitute" is the most recent entry in the Jackson Spey / Adin Swift storyverse, inspired by a picture fellow author K-lee Klein put up on Facebook. (Thank you, K-lee!)

You can find the story here.

Some of you, but probably not many of you, are familiar with Jackson and Adin. They're my most beloved and possibly most interesting couple, and they've certainly been around the longest. They made their first appearance together in Plagued, a novel released by Ellora's Cave in 2007, and went on to develop a full, complex, and often rocky relationship in subsequent books. (You can find the complete list at my website.) 

"The Substitute" takes place approximately six months after Carny's Magic, a novel published by Loose Id. 

Hope you like it. And I hope squabbling couples are encouraged by it. ;-)

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I might be taking a break from writing, but I haven't taken a break from thinking. ;-)

Simply put, I want to see the rating system for books disappear, primarily from Goodreads. I wouldn't mind seeing it disappear from privately-owned review sites, too. Those stupid stars (or marmosets or dandelions or whatever) have caused more grief and contention than anything else in the bookworld -- or at least the corner of the bookworld that I frequent. Over the past decade, I've seen countless writers go temporarily insane over star numbers. I've seen citizen reviewers manipulate those star numbers either to pimp or to punish authors. I've seen author buddies abuse those star numbers to show support for each other. I've seen authors rate their own work. The whole system is hopelessly, absurdly corrupted.

Moreover, books can't be evaluated like cars and appliances. Their worth can't be conveyed on a scale of one to five. Reading, like sex, is a highly subjective experience. The only way to express the nature of that experience on a reader-by-reader basis is through words. WORDS. (Can you imagine people slapping stars on each other's genitals following an intimate encounter? Heh.) At least Amazon requires you to post a review along with your rating. I'm still not sure if the book must be a "verified purchase" or not, but their system is far preferable to the way Goodreads does things.

Serious readers want and need honest reviews, not mere ratings and certainly not juvenile games played with icons. A review can be a few words long or a few paragraphs long. One needn't possess the vocabulary of John Updike to express one's satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a book.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Dear Friends,

I'm taking a sabbatical of indeterminate length. 2014 was a "D" year for me: a year of disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement, and depression. There are many reasons for this. I'd considered laying out those reasons -- part of me feels my readers deserve to know -- but the further I got into my litany of let-downs, the more self-indulgent the exercise seemed. Who wants to hear somebody, anybody, whine ad nauseam? Blech.

So to hell with specifics. In a nutshell, my confidence is tapped out. I need time to take stock of my writing career. (Actually, "writing career" is an oxymoron in my case.) Dozens of criteria are indicative of an author's critical and/or popular success. Over the past year or more, I haven't measured up to any of them -- a fact I can no longer ignore. In addition, there are aspects of publishing and promoting within the m/m romance genre that have drained me of incentive.

If I do regain some shred of mojo, if I manage someday to weave more tales and publish them, I don't know when or under what name or in what genre. For the time being I simply need to withdraw and reassess my capabilities and expectations. I also plan on reading a lot, but most likely not romance.

By the way, I've turned off comments. It isn't my intention to harvest sympathy and reassurances through this post. I merely wanted to let my loyal readers (and jeez, how I treasure you!) know what's going on. I've also cut back drastically on my Internet presence, although I still check in periodically at Facebook and Twitter, mostly for fun. (I've come to know many wonderful people through social media and don't want to lose track of them!) My blog will remain, albeit in a largely dormant state. If I have something to spout off about, or an announcement to make, I'll put up a post.

Thank you all so much for reading my books. Please take care of yourselves, and have a fulfilling 2015!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop!

Gift Exchange
It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go.
~Nigerian saying

The door opened at his back. A cheery fanfare of sleigh bells ushered in a wave of frigid air. Before the sound died and the cold surrendered to warmth, Brome looked up from the cluster of porcelain buildings he’d been regarding, their windows aglow -- a village in miniature. His gaze snagged for a moment on the tall white church at its center. A ghost image of the gilded cross atop its steeple lingered in his retinas and briefly stamped itself on the face of the new customer.

No, not a customer. Lieutenant Eliason from the Redemption Center, the place from which Brome had just fled. Tense, hyperalert, he turned back to the rows of artfully arranged houses and shops that had no match in the real world. They were too pretty. The world was not.

Without drawing attention to himself, Eliason strolled down the right-hand aisle toward his target. Brome, acting oblivious, continued to study the villages. Beneath the sweeping heat of fever, a chill gripped him. His head and muscles ached. Sweat slicked his forehead. With a handkerchief he’d pulled from his jacket, he wiped his face. Why, today of all days, did he have to feel like shit?

And why the hell did Eliason have to show up?

Brome thought he’d timed his getaway just right. Disposal of a witch, an adulterer, and an infidel was scheduled for this evening, three blocks away on the Square. Even if the Red Center was quick to broadcast a fugitive alert, those hangings would keep the local flock occupied for a while. He would’ve had a good chance of making it to the bus or train station.

“Brome.” Eliason stopped beside him. “I saw you take off in this direction after throwing the trash bags in the dumpster. Care to tell me why?” He kept his voice low.

“Because I wanted to.” Brome had always been intrigued by the charming little store with its striped awnings and six-pointed brass star above the door. The State allowed Jews to buy special licenses for selling goods and services to the Faithful. Christmas Love seemed a pleasant place to hide until the Eradication Event got underway and he could bolt.

He moved farther down the aisle as he pretended to study the array of holy-day decorations. “I’m entitled to my hour of private time after supper. I work hard when I'm on kitchen detail.” 

“But you left the premises without signing out, and you aren’t accompanied by your brother.”

Brother. Stupid euphemism. Cathcart was his keeper.

“Weren’t you assigned a new one?” Eliason paused before a terraced hill of teddy bears. Gingerly, he touched two of them, stroking their fur, brushing one's heart-patterned bow with his fingertips.     

Wary but curious, Brome followed the tentative movements from the corner of his eye. There were times like this when he thought he could actually like Eliason. Times when hed caught the lieutenant watching him in the dining hall with a bemused smile or giving him a slight nod as they passed each other in the Center’s hallways.

“Well?” Eliason prompted.

“Yes. They saddled me with Cathcart.” Brome couldn’t temper the resentment in his voice. “They don’t trust me, and I don’t trust him.”

Carols lilted through the shop’s gossamer veil of scent: apple and cinnamon, as if small, perfect housewives were baking pies in those small, perfect houses surrounded by sparkling snow. Brome thought of his grandmother. She was neither small nor perfect, but she accepted him, would shelter him. If he could get to her.

His prospects weren’t looking good.

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray…” Brome warned himself not to let his guard down. Smiles and nods aside, Eliason was his enemy. The lieutenant was there because Brome had gone astray and needed to be retrieved. He had to be saved from Satan’s power. At least, that was how the Redemption Center and the State saw it.

Still tailed by Eliason, Brome turned up the next aisle. They passed a decorated tree.

“How many transgressions are on your record?” Eliason continued to touch items --ornaments now -- in that tender and almost reverent way he’d touched the bears. 

A crystal snowman caught his attention. He gently lifted it away from the bough on which it hung and let it rest on the insides of his fingers, as if he were holding a treasured but fragile memory. Maybe he was.

Brome was uncomfortably moved by the sight.  

“Four,” he answered. There was no point in lying about it. The most elaborate lie wouldn’t secure Brome’s freedom. He’d have to wrest his freedom from the fist of the government and its church.

“One more and you’ll be--”

“I know what I’ll be. So you might as well leave. I’m not going back.” Determination flared into defiance. No matter what they do to me, I’m never going to change. I’ll never be part of the flock. Soon they'll classify me as irredeemable. So what’s the point of my being at the Center, except to face disposal one day?”

Eliason's brow contracted. “But . . . where will you go?”

Brome had expected threats, not concerned interest. His guard slipped. “North. To a cottage on a lake. I know the owner. Shell welcome me.”

He said nothing more. Not only had he already divulged too much, he suddenly felt lightheaded. Stress, the flu . . . boo-fucking-hoo, a mocking voice in his head concluded. Queerboy. That less-than-sympathetic sentiment had come from a reversion specialist who’d hurt him until he cried. Brome denied the details entry into his mind.

The shop twirled. Its floor tilted and fell away. Brome swayed, reached out to steady himself. His hand lightly connected with the ornament-laden tree. Loaves and fishes, cherubs and seraphs, doves and camels and lambs tinkled as he jostled them. An arm came around him from behind and kept him upright.

“You’re burning with fever,” Eliason murmured, as if Brome didn’t know. “You need to lie down.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Not if you traipse around in this weather. You’re already sick.”

“Either leave me alone, lieutenant, or do what you came here to do.” If Eliason chose the latter course, Brome figured he could give him the slip once they were outside. 

Eliason continued to hold him, although the dizzy spell, and the need for support, had passed. “Brome, listen to me.”

“My name is David. David,” he grated. “And I’m gay.” Many bleak months had passed since he’d spoken his first name or declared his orientation. The words thrilled him. Reclaiming his identity, feeling it fill his mouth and slide from his tongue, was his greatest act of rebellion. “My name is David. And I’m gay.” All the stubborn lawlessness that had landed him in the Redemption Center was contained in that seven-word manifesto.   

He thought Eliason might reply, “Sorry, David, your field trip ends here. You’re not ‘gay’ anymore. You’re back to being Brome, a common deviant who needs straightening out.”  

Again, the lieutenant surprised him. “I’m Matthew,” he whispered, his mouth moving against the ill-shaven skin between David’s mouth and ear. The feel of his lips made David tingle. “Let me come with you. We can look after each other.” Finally, he withdrew his arm.

David’s eyes widened. He turned to face Eliason. “What?”

Was this a trick? But there was no need for trickery to nab a runaway. Lieutenants and other officers carried InstAlarms that, with the push of a button, summoned help. Some even kept hypodermic needles full of tranquilizer in their pockets. David could easily have been rendered helpless. In fact, he'd been waiting for some sign of impending capture . . . only, there’d been none.

“Why?” he asked. “You’ve made it through the program. You’re ex-homo now, a success story. And you have guaranteed employment.” That alone was no small reward, given the country’s crippled economy.

Revulsion twisted through Eliason's features. “I hate it there. My life’s a lie. Can’t you tell? Please, David, take me with you. Theres no one else I can--”

“Is everything all right?” The middle-aged woman who’d approached them was, David assumed, one of the shop’s owners. Hed glimpsed her at the checkout counter when he’d come in, standing beside a man who couldve been her husband. Her auburn hair was pulled into a thick, gleaming side-braid and her eyes were at once sharp and soft. 

Two ladies, visible through a bank of creche-lined shelves, hurried toward the door. They appeared to be the last shoppers in the store. The Eradication Event would be starting soon.

“Better now,” Eliason answered. “My buddy has the flu.”

Stunned, David directed his bleary gaze to the ornament Eliason had been admiring. He still wasn’t sure he could accept the man’s confession and believe he could be defiant too. And they could be comrades.

The woman nodded. “It’s going around. He should be in bed.” She hesitated for a beat. “Don’t you work at the Redemption Center? I’m sure I’ve seen you entering and leaving the building.”

Eliason’s cheeks flushed. “Not anymore.”

Perceptively, the woman looked from him to David and back. “I see.”  

“I like your Old Man Winters,” David said abruptly, diverting her attention to figurines of robed men with white beards. Her inquisitiveness made him uneasy.

The woman smiled wistfully. “His name is Santa Claus, at least in English. I know we’re not supposed to utter it, but that’s his name.”

She was right. Calling the figure anything other than Old Man Winter was a criminal offense. Yet here was a Jew, giving a Christmas icon’s name back to him, quietly insisting it be recognized.

David’s heart drummed faster. He didn’t risk glancing at Eliason’s face, afraid his hope wouldn’t be reflected there.

The bell at the county jail began to ring. Three measured peals, a pause, then three more. Repeated. Repeated. The guilty were being led to the gallows. David and his companions winced. Bells signaled every noteworthy event: weddings, baptisms, funerals; executions and escapes from institutions. David had come to hate bells, except for the ones on the shop’s door.

“If you’d like to take a nap,” the woman said to him with a kindness and serenity that almost, almost counteracted that dreadful tolling, “we have living quarters in the basement. The guestrooms aren't luxurious but they’re clean and comfortable. No one goes downstairs except my husband and I and a few people were close to. I’m Susan, by the way.” She pointed at the well-dressed man behind the counter. “That's Ari.”

David glanced at Eliason, at Matthew. Yes, hope was in his clear, bright eyes, in the shimmer of optimism on his face.

Can my . . . friend come with me?” 

“Of course.

Still, David hesitated.

“I know my offer seems hasty,” said Susan. “It might even sound strange. But this isn’t a trap, in case you’re worried. We believe what a brave young woman named Anne Frank once wrote. ‘. . . Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world’.”

David considered as he and Matthew exchanged uncertain looks. He did need to rest and recover before starting his trek, and they both had to lay low for a while. Matthew gave him a subtle go-ahead nod.

“I’d appreciate that,” David said. “Thank you.” Survival, he realized, wasn’t only about suspicion; it was also about trust.

Susan looked pleased. “You’re quite welcome. And your names are…?”

Matthew told her.

“Ah, two of my favorites! Follow me, Matthew and David. There’s aspirin in the medicine chest and orange juice in the fridge. Plenty of food, too.” Susan laughed. “We do love to eat. So help yourselves.” She led them to the back of the shop and pulled aside a red curtain concealing a storage area. A nondescript door stood beyond stacks of boxes and large lawn displays. Susan wended through the stock, leaving a faint tendril of apple-and-cinnamon fragrance in her wake.

David fingered the crystal snowman in his pocket. If Matthew was still with him when he reached Gran’s house, he would give it to him on Christmas morning.

“I need to pay you for something,” he told their hostess. He couldn’t boost the ornament. Not now.

“We’ll take care of it another time. Ari and I have a dinner date.” After unlocking the door, Susan turned on a stairwell light. Candle flames flickered in the darkness below. “You can stay as long as you need to. We’ve harbored people before.”

“Harbored?” Matthew echoed.

Susan laid a hand on the side of each of their faces. “Yes. It brings us joy.” She gestured toward the stairwell. “Go on. Make yourselves at home. Don’t be alarmed if you find a tunnel behind a panel in the pantry. It has a good purpose. But I suggest you not go exploring until I tell you more and David feels stronger.” Another smile, full of caring. “Well talk again later. Merry Christmas.” 

Maybe the merriest of all, David thought as he and Matthew walked side by side toward their futures.

 Copyright © 2014 K. Z. Snow 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Window of Mercy

I just finished the memoir Body Counts by Sean Strub (a gay activist who, among other things, founded POZ magazine). After reading this book and seeing powerful movies about the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I can't help being grateful for where I live.

The upper Midwest might not be glamorous or exciting, and the winters are certainly a bitch to get through, but my place of residence could very well have been a life-saver.

In the late summer/early fall of 1982, I lived and worked in northeastern Wisconsin. Through a gay coworker from Green Bay, I began socializing with a group of twenty-something queer men, including a heterosexually-oriented transman, whom I blogged about last year. (However, that's irrelevant to this particular post.) I not only had a helluva lot of fun with my new friends, I had a brief fling with one who was, I believe, the only bisexual in the group. I'll call him Marty.

On that subtly-shaded orientation spectrum from thoroughly heterosexual to thoroughly homosexual, Marty was only a few, narrow gradations away from the thoroughly-gay end. He was vastly more attracted to men. When I asked him out of curiosity how many male lovers he'd had and how many female, he estimated he'd been intimate with approximately 500 guys and maybe a dozen women.

Marty and I engaged in a range of sexual activity -- if you catch my drift. Since not getting knocked up was my primary concern, I was already on a birth-control regimen. I figured since I had that angle covered, condoms were unnecessary. Besides, certain forms of sex couldn't lead to pregnancy anyway. And besides that, Marty had no STDs. He was, like the others in the group, a profoundly decent, caring man, and I knew he would've told me if he could transmit some unpleasant germ.

Yes. I was inexcusably naive. Or maybe I had that sense of invulnerability the comes with youth.

I don't remember if word of the "gay cancer" had reached the hinterlands by 1982. Possibly, but I don't recall my friends ever talking about it. (The acronym AIDS had only just come into use that same autumn.) If local media outlets covered the story at all, their "coverage" was probably brief and vague. But lack of widespread attention hadn't kept the disease from ravaging the gay populations of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Given Marty's promiscuity, if he and I had lived in a major urban area, especially along one of the coasts, chances are we both would've become infected.

Our window of mercy certainly didn't stay open very long. Within a handful of years, maybe even months, HIV/AIDS was sweeping the nation. Flyover country certainly didn't get a pass. The virus claimed my housemate's younger brother, who lived in the Milwaukee area, in the early 1990s, just as it claimed a sweet, funny guy who'd been a groomsman at my first wedding.

So, yeah, I was spared the consequences of my reckless behavior -- but just barely. (By the way, I believe Marty was also spared. I don't know if he ever became HIV positive, but I do know he's still alive.)

I only wish -- damn, do I wish -- the millions of lives that were ended by this plague could've had their window of mercy too.