Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Trope Down Memory Lane: Men for Sale

The hooker with the heart of gold: that character type has been a Hollywood staple for decades. As has the scheming, cold-blooded, or even murderous whore.

No wonder many of us find men in the sex trade . . . well . . . sexy. Exotic dancers. Porn stars. Escorts. Rent boys. Maybe it's the ambiguity built into the lifestyle that appeals to us. It can simultaneously be glamorous, tawdry, and dangerous. The men brashly put themselves out there, yet have (we suspect) an underlying emotional vulnerability. Sizzling physical appeal and sexual prowess are often coupled with intelligence, creativity, and/or sensitivity.

Frankly, I love these types of characters. I love exploring their complexity. The psychologically scarred Daren Boothe in Xylophone is a gender-fluid erotic dancer, and Faron Weaver, the Amish MC in A Hole in God's Pocket, has often depended on sugar daddies to get by. Below are two more of my men for sale.

* * *

Mobry's Dick (now on sale at Loose Id!)

Late-19th-century illusionist Alain Mobry, a short, homely man with a clubfoot, is known primarily for his elaborate clockwork automata. But his private life is even more complex than his mechanisms. Mobry is a homosexual and a member of the Green Carnation Club, a secret gathering place for gay men of the theater. He’s also dabbled in “real” magick. There are hints of it in an illusion called the Fountain of Youth—in which a beautiful youth called Puck, never seen in public, emerges from a diorama and disappears back into it—and in a profane automaton Alain has devised specifically to entertain the Green Carnation’s members. He would like his creation to be for one man in particular, a fellow magician with whom he’s infatuated.  But he never gets the chance to offer his gift . . .

Over 100 years later, a peculiar item turns up at an outdoor flea market. It looks something like a blunt-nosed artillery shell to Cameron Waters, the young real estate broker who buys the piece out of curiosity. It looks like the legendary automaton known as Mobry’s Dick to Paul Patrillo, a graduate student who’s been researching the history of stage magic. It looks like a blessing as well as a curse when it brings the two men together.

While Cameron inches his way out of the closet and Paul struggles to free himself from a sugar daddy who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants, the unlikely pair grow closer as they tackle the mystery of Mobry’s Dick -- with startling and nearly tragic results.

* * *


It was just an amateur porn video, like thousands of others on the Internet. Like hundreds Jonathan Wright has seen and hundreds more he's ignored. He hadn't intended to watch it. In fact, he hadn't intended to go anywhere near his home office. He was simply on his way to the bathroom—the only sensible destination, aside from bed, in the middle of the night.

Jon's fuck-buddy for the evening doesn't think so. Much to Jon's annoyance, his trick is having some solo fun in front of the computer as he watches a lithe, blond young man doing naughty things with a bearish, older man. When Jon gives in to his curiosity and watches the same video the next day, he's seduced too…and feels like a pervert afterward. The youth in the video seems a little too young, despite the fact he also has his own escort service. Worse yet, Jon gets the nagging feeling he's seen "Justin Time," aka precious_boy, before.

One of Jon's former lovers, a college professor eleven years his senior, is the connecting link between that vague sense of recognition and the hot bottom whose screen name is precious_boy. When Jon takes the defining step of meeting Justin in a Chicago hotel room, his past, present, and possibly his future begin to converge in alarming and confusing ways. There’s no escaping the resulting dilemma: Jon must decide just how involved he wants to get with a sweet kid, all grown up now, whose life has turned sour, and with an ex-lover who seems to care more about his own needs than those of his lost son.

The resolution lies in trust that was established and faith that was betrayed seven years earlier. And it won't come easily.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thank you for the nominations!

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 Romance Members' Choice Awards in the following categories:

Thank you, dear readers!

Oh, and Anne Cain's cover for Merman was also nominated. So congratulations, again, to my favorite cover artist!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Trope Down Memory Lane: Bridge Over Troubled Water

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 possessive.

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's Magic

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 air.

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.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Trope Down Memory Lane ~ Friends to Lovers

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 dream.

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."

Read an excerpt.
Buy at Amazon.
Buy at ARe.
Buy at B&N.

* * *

Abercrombie Zombie

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.

* * *

Visible Friend

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 determination.

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 abiding love.

* * *

The Zero Knot

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. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Trope Down Memory Lane

The only news I have to report is that I sent in my contract for Machine, the final 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. ;-)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Writers, don't ever . . .

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.

You're better off waiting until January.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A New Book (with excerpt)

I'm currently writing my first contemporary since Xylophone. Tentative title: Resurrection Man. It's about a young guy whose first love was a victim of urban gun violence. To honor a promise he made, the youth, sporadically homeless himself, tries to look after his boyfriend'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. 

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 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.

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.  


Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Winners will be announced in March.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


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 Bless├ęd Damned.” He took a step forward. “What’s her name?”

Will blinked as his befuddlement, and his discomfiture, deepened. “I beg your pardon?”

“The woman. What’s her name?”

“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 obligations.”

“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.

He couldn’t wait to get home.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Listopia needs more lists!

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.)
Got any other ideas?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

When Charlie Hunnam Inspired a Book, Not Vice Versa

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 never turn 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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Readers Can Help Fight Plagiarism

This is just the latest case in too many recent cases of plagiarism in our corner of the book world. But I saw a glimmer of hope in S.A.'s post.

More often than not, it's an alert reader who notices suspicious similarities between already (and legitimately) published work and something that suddenly crops up, usually through a very small publisher or a self-publishing effort. So please, dear booklovers, keep your eyes peeled. If you get a sense of deja vu while reading, but you know the author is unfamiliar to you, give some thought to where you might have encountered that storyline/those characters before.

Many writers don't read widely enough in the m/m romance genre to troll through each book that's produced. The same is true of editors and publishers. They're too busy to scan every page of every new release. So we all rely on eagle-eyed readers and reviewers to detect signs of plagiarism. Obviously, no one person can devour the scores of stories that show up every week, but among the thousands of you, with your varied tastes, chances are somebody will have read both the original piece of fiction and its copied counterpart.

Thanks! (And thanks a hundredfold if you catch a thief!)

Friday, August 09, 2013

To Sequel or Not to Sequel?

Say you write a book. It doesn't exactly take off like a rocket (one of those good rockets, the kind that doesn't arc into a nosedive), but a number of readers really like it. And, of course, you like it too.

So what do you do when the readers who really like it express an interest in seeing more of the characters and their world, even if you'd intended the story to be a stand-alone? Do you give those dear readers what they -- and maybe you, as well -- want, or do you adopt a more hard-nosed, objective approach?

This isn't an easy question to answer.

I'll admit I dithered around after Mongrel was released. Nothing I've written has ever taken off like a rocket, and this novel was no different. But it had enough enthusiasts (bless you all!) to keep a follow-up story simmering in the back of my mind. Still I remained cautious, to the point that I published seven books before I threw caution to the wind. Why did I even bother? Because, regardless of the passage of time and the relatively small audience for anything that isn't a contemporary feel-good story, I hadn't managed to root Clancy Marrowbone and Simon Bentcross and my dirty steampunk world out of my brain.

Finally, I began Merman.

It was a struggle. Boy, was it a struggle! Not that I didn't adore the characters, but my old doubts still lingered. I told myself I should've been writing an angsty contemporary laced with humor. That would have more of an audience than this. But I'm stubborn . . . with a touch of delusional. I kept going and got caught up in the tale. To make matters worse, I OCD'd my way into a third book, just to give myself a sense of completion with the Mongrel storyverse.

Not a day goes by that I don't ask my computer, What the hell am I doing here? Why do I keep writing this book? When all is said and done, there might be five people, max, who'll have any interest whatsoever in reading Machine. And yet I press on. I have over 17,000 words written and I can't seem to stop, no matter how often I tell myself it's an exercise in futility.

What have I learned from the Mongrel Trilogy experience that I can pass on to fellow writers?

DO NOT follow my example. At least not the one above.


1.) Plan a duology, trilogy, or series before you begin writing the first book. Don't wing it. When I began the Utopia-X series for Loose Id, I knew I wanted each of the first three "installments" to concentrate on the development of one relationship, and the fourth to put the primary world in danger. Therefore, Book I focuses on Win and Pablo; Book II, on Tole and Ridley; Book III, on Zee and Sebastian (with a wrap-up of the Tole-Ridley story arc, which proved the most complicated). Book IV centers on a threat to the entire Utopian Metroplex of Regenerie. It also tests the Win-Pablo bond and resolves other issues, so it brings the series full-circle. That's the kind of planning I'm talking about.

2.) Unless you're as popular as Rowling or Ward or Meyer, and have millions of rabid fans salivating at the thought of a sequel to anything you produce, it's imperative you not let too much time go by between books. Adhere to the old adage, "Strike while the iron is hot." Sure, give the first volume a chance to take off/catch on, but after six months to a year, your next book should be ready to launch. M/M fiction, like most pop-fic genres, has an explosion of new releases every damned week. If you want readers to remember your first story and retain their enthusiasm for it, release the subsequent stories in a timely manner. I waited waaaaaaay too long to get cracking on Merman.

3.) Stay abreast of readers' preferences. They change rapidly. Today's Big Thing could easily be part of tomorrow's Glut. Or become tomorrow's Meh. Gay steampunk was still something of a novelty when Mongrel came out, but while I was doing all my dithering, the novelty started wearing off. And vampires fell even further out of favor. What's more, even though interest in mermen was rising, I deliberately chose not to create a fairy-tale merman and make him a sexy, romantic hero -- which is, I think, what most readers want. Oh well. That type of character wouldn't have fit into my universe.

By ignoring all these trends, either perversely or on principle (in my case, it was a little of both), I took more steps toward jeopardizing the success of my sequel.

Here's where another consideration comes into play. If you notice a change in tastes that could influence the reception of your next story, whether it's Series Book 2 or Series Book 10, do you alter it accordingly or remain true to your original vision? There is no right or wrong answer. Which way you go probably depends on how much you crave approbation . . . and royalties. ;-)
4.) Know when to call it quits. Granted, some series become so beloved, readers never seem to tire of them: e.g., Sookie Stackhouse, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe, J.D. Robb's "In Death," and the chronic diarrhea that is Anita Blake (sorry; I'm not a fan). Our genre has been blessed with some excellent ongoing series: Boystown, The Administration, PsyCop, to name a few. But . . . keep in mind these are the exceptions, not the rule. Most authors can't get away with producing an open-ended and seemingly never-ending series. Their writing suffers, their readers get bored, and soon, their reputations are taking some serious hits. Counterproductive, for sure. (I really admire Josh Lanyon's wisdom and courage in putting the brakes on Adrien English. He could certainly have squeezed a lot more mileage out of his central couple, but for some very sound reasons, he chose not to.)

Now, I'm obviously not averse to letting favorite characters make cameo appearances in stories that aren't theirs -- Jackson Spey turned up in Fugly and Abercrombie Zombie ('cause, hey, he's a wizard, so he can show up whenever and wherever he pleases!) -- but I'd never drag out an actual series past three to five books, and I don't think too many authors should. It's a matter of recognizing limitations: your own, both in terms of creativity and popularity, and your readers', in terms of their interest level. So don't, don't get too big for your britches and assume the world will never get enough of your wonderful characters. The sad truth for most of is, the world will more likely forget about our wonderful characters than eagerly await their return.

To learn more about crafting series fiction the right way, check out Josh Lanyon's excellent guide, Man, Oh Man: Writing Quality M/M Fiction. He's devoted an entire chapter to the subject. (You should read the other chapters too, while you're at it, because a series won't fly unless you've mastered all the elements of storytelling.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

RWA: Talkin' the talk but not walkin' the walk?

After reading some very encouraging accounts of the recent Romance Writers of America conference (yes, THE be-there-or-be-square event staged by Romanceland's preeminent professional organization), I felt heartened. Attendees who represented the m/m romance (sub)genre said they were heartily welcomed, and treated with as much regard and even enthusiasm as their m/f romance counterparts.

This hasn't always been the case. Not that the ladies of RWA have ever behaved like members of Westboro Baptist Church at a gay soldier's funeral. I'm sure they were gracious about their initial aversion to GLBT romance. But there was an aversion in some quarters (likely still is), and a good deal of acrimony ensued as a result.

Now -- yippee! hurrah! huzzah! -- the tide seems to be turning.

Or is it?

Here's where I get confused. GLBT authors can join Rainbow Romance Writers, a "special interest chapter" of RWA. (Why the segregation?) This in turn means, from what I can gather, one must join RWA before joining RRW. (Does that entail paying double dues?)

Now let's examine RWA's two big awards competitions, the RITA and the Golden Heart. I checked the 2013 finalists for and winners of both. Here's what I found:

 The RITAs ("recognizing excellence in romance fiction" -- keep that phrase in mind)

11 categories
8 finalists (on average) in each category
88 total finalists (approximate)

The Golden Heart Awards ("[promoting] excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance manuscripts" -- also keep that phrase in mind)

6 categories
8 finalists (on average) in each category
48 total finalists (approximate)

This adds up to 136 finalists (approximate) in 17 separate categories. At first I wondered why there was no M/M or GLBT category for either award. Then I thought, Well, why should there be? Love is love and romance is romance and a good story is a good story, regardless of the gender(s) of the central characters.

But . . . But . . .

Out of +/-136 finalists in 17 categories, there wasn't a single title featuring a "nontraditional" couple or threesome. Not one. (Please, PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong! I didn't have time to read all the novels' blurbs.)

I know damned well that "excellent" GLBT romance fiction is published not just every year but every month. Why wasn't it represented? Why didn't, say, a dozen books final? Or even a half-dozen? What's up with that? Why are dues-paying, bona fide romance writers being squeezed out of these competitions? Are m/m authors and publishers simply not entering? If that's the case, why? Don't they have every right to enter? If not, does it have something to do with discriminatory definitions of publisher eligibility? If so, why are those standards in place?   

Might this rather dated statuette hold some answers? 

I doubt I've ever used so many question marks in one post. But honestly, I cannot fathom what's going on here. Sorry to say, my skepticism has returned.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Who is Simon Bentcross?

Seems the poor guy is always being dissed by somebody: a young pitchman who ends up dumping him, an employer who ends up firing him, a vampire lover who's been trying to avoid him, a Branded Mongrel who's clocked him twice, and a merman who wants him dead. 

In spite of all that, he's actually a pretty decent guy -- good-natured, loyal, considerate, and unashamedly sentimental in spite of his gruffness and occasional vulgarity.

Simon, who's in his early thirties, is a bit more rugged-looking than the man below. Aside from that, there's definitely a resemblance, right down to the broad-brimmed hat. So, mentally add some disheveled hair, thin the beard and mustache to a carelessly shaved state, add some laugh-lines to that face . . . and there you have him!

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Mongrel 3? Here's the opening.

Now that the publication of Merman is approaching, a notion has taken hold of me. A duology in the Mongrel storyverse simply feels incomplete. I need a trilogy. Then I'll call it quits. I'd like to explore where and how Branded Mongrels originated, and find out more about Fan's parents, and see what happens when the two central couples' commitment is tested.

I don't know if Machine (a very tentative title; it could change to Miscreant, or something else entirely) is going to appeal to anybody or not. Too soon to say. If the interest isn't there, I'll either scrap this story or, if I finish it, offer it as a free read. Hell, maybe I'll just write it for myself. :)

Stay tuned.


Starless midnight. November had begun. The air, bearing small blades of frost, hinted at December’s cruelty.

Like a gilded and festooned ark, a showy wagon crept down Division Highway. Its wheels creaked laboriously as they made their slow revolutions through the dirt. The highway was deserted. A team of black horses plodded silently before the wagon, their hooves never touching the ground.

The driver paused at Whitesbain Plank Road and, considering, directed a narrow-eyed look down its shadowed length.

“Not yet,” he whispered after a moment.

Team and wagon resumed their trek.

On Whitesbain Plank Road, Simon Bentcross breathed irregularly in his deep sleep. Dreams bounced from jagged peak to jagged peak. Alone and restless, he swaddled himself more snugly in his quilt, as if this bunting would protect him. He sensed things he had no desire to know. And he knew only his lover’s presence would calm his mind.

Clancy Marrowbone, concluding his feed from a willing booth-tender at the Marvelous Mechanical Circus, swiped his tongue over the puncture wounds in the man’s chest. His saliva would hasten their healing.

Gods forgive him, he'd imagined it was Simon’s chest pulsing beneath his lips.

A sickening feeling suddenly lassoed his ribcage, squelching his arousal before it reached its natural conclusion. He stumbled backward as his host slid out of his grasp and crumpled to the floor.

Something was coming.

All he was sure of in his guilt- and blood-drenched daze was that he wanted no part of it.

A brown leaf dove toward the glass like a sparrow, tapped once, and swirled away. Darkness concealed the path of its flight. Soon, another gust coaxed a rustle and rattle from the withered vegetation in the yard.

 Fanule Perfidor continued to stand at the window, trying to see beyond his reflection. He couldn’t. The night would not allow it. The night pushed his image back at his eyes. He felt like a seer without sight.

Strange thought….

“Fan?” William sounded half asleep and wholly bewildered.

Fanule turned. “Yes?”

“What are you doing?” Sluggish movement stirred the bedclothes. A moan, inadvertently enticing, fell into a pillow. Then a mumbled “Come back here,” muffled by a clot of feathers.

“In a minute.”

Air seeped between frame and glass, raising gooseflesh on Fanule’s bare arm. He lowered his hand from the window. Winter whispered through the wind.

Something’s about to happen, he thought with an added chill of apprehension.

Stuporous, a fat fly buzzed and spun on the windowsill.

Damn it, something’s about to happen… as the bottle-green fly, twitching wings powerless beneath its back, sputtered through its death throes.

Fanule made his way toward William and warmth. And the fragile comfort of certainty.

Chapter One     

The tradition had begun when Alphonse Hunzinger owned the Mechanical Circus. On the first of November, the last day of the carnival’s season, peddlers, spiritualists, amateur entertainers, spreaders of cultish fervor—anybody who hungered for attention or had something to sell—were allowed to gather at no charge beyond the Circus’s high fences and take advantage of the crowds.

The entire city of Purinton looked forward to this chaotic spectacle. And why not? Solemn women conjured ghosts in tents. Mr. Dulhorn sang operatic arias for the sheer satisfaction of having, finally, an audience other than his collection of indifferent cats. Politicians and preachers stood on crates and shouted their evangels, hoping the messages would lodge in at least few listeners’ ears. Whittlers sold carvings, housewives sold pies, gypsies sold spells.

Even in the rain, the first of November was a glorious day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fragment from MERMAN

Now that Merman is at the galley stage, I can start posting snippets. (The entire first chapter will, of course, be available at the Dreamspinner site once the book is on their Coming Soon page.) The blurb is posted in the previous entry.


Troubled and restless when he left Taintwell, Marrowbone spent the predawn hours walking a deserted stretch of beach south of Purinton. He kept telling himself to move on, get away from here, travel farther inland, perhaps to Widger or Nittyville. He’d got the information he’d been after: Simon was doing well. Although Perfidor had encouraged him to stay in Taintwell for a while, Marrowbone knew that lingering in this area wouldn’t be wise—for a number of reasons.
Fan’s parting words continued to echo in his mind. “It pained him, you know, that you left so abruptly. He didn’t regain even a semblance of his old bluster for at least three months. William is certain he misses you still.” Marrowbone had tried to dismiss these claims, blaming them on Will’s sentimentality and citing Simon’s resilience. “Nonsense,” he’d said. “I’ll wager Mr. Bentcross has enjoyed himself with half the denizens of Skipskin Mews, male and female.” Fan, watching his friend insightfully, had replied, “Some, perhaps. But I’ll wager he hasn’t given a penny’s rim about any of them. Would you like to know why I think that, Clancy?”
Marrowbone had demurred and instead said his good-byes.
Stopping now, he stared out to sea. He hadn’t seen it in daylight for countless years, but he remembered Simon once saying, “I loved to swim when I was a boy in Kings Province. But here, the ocean is the color of sickness.”
The ragged, grim hump of Floating Brick Island broke the line of the horizon like a reading on a sluggish seismometer. Far off to Marrowbone’s left, the carnival known as the Marvelous Mechanical Circus, shut down for the night, was a mass of shadows pocked here and there with dull light. The distant snap of windblown pennants occasionally broke the steady susurration of waves meeting shore.
Although Purinton was at Marrowbone’s back, it made its looming presence known. He could smell its breath, a creeping stink of smoke and oil and tar, dust and dirt, overcooked food and the end result of its consumption. He could hear the relentless, thumping thunder of its voice, diminished though it was by distance and night. Most people would only catch traces of odor or hear a faint cloud of noise, but a vampire wasn’t like most people. So Marrowbone, if he concentrated, could tell that horses still clopped and streetcars still clattered and 24-hour mills and manufactories kept up their busy clangor.
A bit inland, between sea and city, an aeropod flew over the train tracks. It seemed to be leading the locomotive that chugged rhythmically in its wake.
Briefly, Marrowbone watched them over his shoulder. Beating rotors thrashed against the inky sky. On the ground, a line of black cars heaped with coal crawled along like monitor beetles on a march. Between the aeropod and the train, roiling steam and billowing smoke mingled, filling the air.
His only thought was, It’s truly stupid of me to be out here.
Marrowbone knew he could readily be identified for what he was and even who he was. No mortal glided over the littered sand, as if each grain were a tiny ball bearing. Few mortals resembled errant slips of moonlight. Not even another of his kind had hair that floated and rippled when the wind caught it, a bleached silk banner torn into gossamer threads.
The briny breeze had felt so refreshing when Marrowbone landed on the beach, he’d chucked his hat into the sea. Now he regretted his impulsiveness. Wherever he went next, he’d have to pinch another hat as quickly as possible.
Being obvious did not work to a vampire’s advantage. Only in Taintwell did Marrowbone feel completely safe.
With that in mind, and in spite of being alone on the beach, he retreated to a low dune and sat. He’d be less visible if he weren’t standing.
Yes, he might’ve been lionized in Taintwell—he’d put an end to the practice of branding Mongrels, saved Fanule Perfidor from an assassin’s bullet, and been a significant factor in stopping persecution of Taintwellians—but everywhere else he was feared and despised. Purinton’s government, in spite of its overhaul, still reeked of corruption and bigotry, by all reports. And its Enforcement Agency now had a Special Threats Unit dedicated to seeking out “unusual enemies of the people.” Were a team from that unit to come upon the infamous vampire Clancy Marrowbone, they’d be well-prepared. He’d never survive a confrontation.
Resting his forearms on his upraised knees, he stared past the advancing lines of foam to Floating Brick Island. What kind of research, he wondered, would benefit from Simon’s “Bubble”? Or was the project more a salvage than an academic operation? Would Simon be safe inside his sphere?
“Stop,” Marrowbone whispered to himself. He couldn’t become too caught up in this. Curiosity, interest, fascination—and certainly concern—acted as adhesives. He’d intended to peel himself away from the province of Purin as quickly as possible.
Laden with flotsam, the low waves sloshed rather than broke on shore. Marrowbone had been paying them little mind. Now, though, with no aeropod chopping overhead and no train lumbering down the nearby tracks, he heard a different sound interrupt the water’s lulling, repetitive lapping. His brow furrowed as he tilted his head and listened more pointedly.
Raspy, that sound, as if a piece of wood were being scraped across the sand. An unusual filament of odor accompanied the noise. Marrowbone couldn’t identify it.
Much of the seacoast was redolent of marine as well as human waste. One not only grew accustomed to the stench but became familiar with it. Although this smell didn’t seem out of place the way a floral fragrance would, Marrowbone found it strange.
Following his senses, he rose to investigate.
“Ghosts alive,” he whispered in horror as he approached a shallow gully between a pair of dunes.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Blurb for MERMAN

The sequel to my fantasy-steampunk novel Mongrel.

When vampire Clancy Marrowbone returns to Purin province 22 months after his departure, he intends only to visit briefly with his Branded Mongrel friend Fanule Perfidor in the village of Taintwell. He also intends to avoid his former lover, the unfortunately mortal Simon Bentcross. What would be the point of rekindling their affair? Marrowbone merely wants to know how Simon is faring.

Quite well, it turns out. Bentcross, who now owns a machinery repair shop, has designed a submersible vessel for underwater exploration. He’ll be manning his “Bubble” for a marine research expedition shrouded in secrecy.

Vaguely troubled after his visit with Perfidor, the restless vampire stops at a deserted stretch of beach in Purinton, the provincial capital. He needs time to reflect before he moves on. But two unexpected turns, including a startling discovery, substantially alter his plans.

By the following evening, Marrowbone realizes his visit to the province won’t be so short after all . . . especially when Simon Bentcross reenters his life. In addition to their conflicted passion, Simon’s involvement in the mysterious Tower Hole project and Clancy’s involvement with a mysterious mutant lead to a growing host of complications and dangers. As if their affair weren’t star-crossed enough, both vampire and mortal become hunted men -- in Purinton, Taintwell, and beyond.

~ Excerpt Coming Soon ~

Friday, May 31, 2013

Git 'er Submitted!

In the publishing world, that's the logical followup to "git 'er done."

As e-publishers become ever more flooded with submissions, the amount of time between submission and acceptance, and acceptance and publication, keeps stretching. And stretching. How might these facts -- the glut and the resulting lag times -- be affecting writers?

I'm starting to feel increasingly desperate to turn in a piece before it meets my standards, just to get a place card in a publication queue. Other writers probably feel the same way. Quick, get it in, just get this baby in so it won't be published next fucking year . . . or the year after! 

The early days of e-publishing spoiled me. Acceptance of a manuscript often came within days, and publication, within two or three months. There were far fewer authors, too, and self-publishing was virtually nonexistent.

Now, though, there seems to be a panicked approach to authorship. Git 'er done! Git 'er in! Git on to the next one! Hustle, hustle, HUSTLE! 

The current realities of publishing have been preying on my mind. I sank hours into finessing Merman (due out this summer) after I signed the contract. This is ass-backwards for me. Fortunately, incorporating changes into the manuscript hasn't been a big deal. It wasn't as if the text was mess when I turned it in, but it wasn't the best it could be, either. I couldn't rest easy until I did more sculpting and polishing.

How many writers, I wonder, might be falling into the "git 'er done and git 'er in" mindset and NOT bothering with any further self-editing? How many rely solely on their editors to make their work presentable? I've read/tried to read a number of books lately that seemed to have been submitted before their time and then promptly forgotten about as the authors likely rushed headlong into new projects. Hurry, hurry! Publish or perish! 

The new publishing timeframe, a result of the increasing spate of new writers, might not be an issue for authors who either a.) don't depend on their royalties as a significant part of their income, or b.) don't have egos that continually need to be fed. But too many of us do depend on royalties or do have voracious egos that thrive on constant attention from the reading public.

It's a shame that speed now seems to be the name of the writing game. A frantic effort is rarely a careful one.