Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bit of Holiday Fiction, Redux

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.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Should authors be expected to bowdlerize their own work?

My favorite read of 2014 was K. J. Charles's Think of England. The same is true for a lot of people, which isn't surprising. It's an extraordinarily well-written and entertaining novella. But -- and I suppose this was inevitable -- a certain contingent of critics seems to think the author should have been more considerate of her readers' sensibilities. You see, the book is set in the early 20th century, in a superficially genteel society fouled by undercurrents of class consciousness and bigotry. The characters' Antisemitism, for example, is obvious.

The critics fear these elements could serve as "triggers" for certain readers.

Okay, let's go with that. Should Ms.Charles have minimized or offset the -isms of Edwardian England: racism, sexism, imperialism? Should she not have used ethnic slurs like dago? Should hero #1, Archie, have been more pure of heart and noble, and his social milieu more sanitized?

I say, Bullshit. And here's why (aside from the fact Archie redeems himself quite nicely, I feel). 

First, this is a work of historical fiction. Good writers of historical fiction make every effort to remain true to the tenor of the time, and realities of the place, about which they're writing. This means background verities aren't always pleasant and seldom reflect the degree of sociopolitical enlightenment for which residents of the 21st-century Western world strive. (Well, some of us, anyway. I have my doubts about millions of my fellow Americans.)

Second, one can't logically be an opponent of institutionalized censorship while being a proponent of rigorous and sweeping self-censorship. Censorship is censorship, whether it rests in the hands of a church or state or on the shoulders of individual authors. Decrying one while advocating the other skirts perilously close to hypocrisy, regardless of the hypocrite's good intentions.

Third, fussing over "triggers" in fiction is an absurd exercise in futility. How does one define the term? What constitutes a trigger? Dozens upon dozens of themes and situations are potentially far more disturbing than period-appropriate mores. Consider domestic violence, child sexual abuse, rape, addiction, abortion, crime, infidelity, terminal illness, terrorism, war -- the list goes on and on. Hell, even mentioning snakes or spiders or Donald Trump's hair can set off anxiety in some people. 

Does the possibility of upsetting or offending certain subsets of readers mean authors should never write about the issues I mentioned above? And countless others? I, for one, avoid BDSM content because it makes me intensely uncomfortable. I spent years in a physically abusive relationship. Although I realize, intellectually, there's a vast difference between consensual BDSM and the terror inflicted by a cruel partner, BDSM is one of my triggers. Do I expect authors to eliminate it from their work? Of course not. My point is, over-delicacy in treading around readers'  real or imagined sensitivities will leave writers with blank pages.

So I say, we need to worry less about the subject matter of fiction and more about the craft of fiction. That's the area that cries for improvement.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Thank you . . .

To a loyal reader who's very dear to me. (You know who you are!) Heck, all three of my loyal readers are precious to me. ;-)

I'm honored that she nominated Machine for this award. Thank you, Reggie, for being so supportive!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There ARE other languages than English. :-)

I'm incredibly proud to announce that my Dreamspinner Press new-adult novel The Zero Knot will be issued in a French language edition by publisher Reines-Beaux. It's slated to appear in their 2015 catalog.

My beloved Mongrel could also be headed for publication by a foreign press. Should it sell well enough, the other two books in the trilogy (Merman and Machine) will be issued by the same publisher. I'll pass along more details when I get them. What with the Frankfurt Book Fair just ending and GRL getting underway, this has been a very busy time for m/m publishers. That's why I'm hesitant to bug TPTB for further info.

Fingers crossed tight, though! I've missed Fanule, Will, Clancy, and Simon something fierce, and would love to see them introduced to new readers.    

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Resurrection Men

Lonzo (Marlon Teixeira, from his Kult Models portfolio)
You know how we writers can be -- always searching for sources of inspiration. ;-)

Here's how I pictured the main players in Resurrection Man.

Elijah (Chord Overstreet)

Michael (anonymous)

I felt kind of bad casting Marlon in the role of Alonzo, but that photo is a perfect representation of the character when he dresses to look respectable. :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Another Kind of Bullying

We who read and/or write m/m romance and gay fiction -- in fact, the entire GLBTQ* community, allies included -- despise bullying. I don't need to explain why. But there's an insidious kind of bullying infesting the U.S. legal system: frivolously spiteful, vindictive lawsuits intended to harass, punish, and/or muffle disseminators of information.

By "information" I mean facts, not rumors or baseless allegations with a negative cast. We have libel and slander laws to protect us against the latter. Bogus information can be harmful; it can damage people's personal and business reputations, financial stability, and physical as well as psycho-emotional well-being. However, when accusations can be substantiated, when information can be verified, the disseminator is "guilty" of only one thing: telling the truth.

Some people fear the truth. It is their enemy. They're likely to cry "Witch hunt!" to deflect attention from their wrongdoing when the truth gets out. Yes, I know, persecution of innocents has indeed taken place throughout history, and far too often. Single words identify some of the more heinous examples: Inquisition, Salem, McCarthyism. But . . . making helpful information public is definitely not a "witch hunt." It's more akin to enlightenment.

I got to pondering these things when I found out a fairly large, prosperous publisher is suing a book blogger for defamation. A book blogger! Here is the offending post. Here is a copy of the complaint as filed. And here's the respondent's announcement of the suit. What I find most disturbing is the complainant's demand to know the identities of site visitors who commented anonymously. Why is this part of an already questionable action? WHY? My opinion: if this, too, doesn't smack of bullying -- an attempt to scare authors-under-contract into shutting up -- I don't know what else you'd call it. (We're still allowed opinions under the First Amendment, aren't we?)

I find the whole situation unconscionable and reprehensible.

Anyway, I got a hell of an education today as I followed relevant links. The more I read, the more I learned about: 1.) "vexatious litigants" (people/entities who continually, often groundlessly sue other people/entities, thereby making themselves a nuisance to the court system); 2.) anti-SLAPP statutes (from Wikipedia), "A strategic lawsuit against public participation [SLAPP] is a lawsuit ... intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition"); 3.) the Streisand Effect (from The Passive Voice), "the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet"; 4.) Chilling Effects (at Vacuous Minx). You can also find out more about these terms, and their RL ramifications, at The Digital Reader and Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

Some sobering stuff, dear friends, and all very cogently explained. I'm sure we've only seen the beginning of what promises to be an enormous public outcry. Streisand Effect, indeed. 

This whole mess has nothing to do with whether or not you like Dear Author. I, for one, rarely visit there anymore. Rather, all of us in the book world -- authors, readers, reviewers, bloggers -- should care about this particular form of bullying. Hell, all U.S. citizens should care, because it imperils a freedom we cherish: that of unfettered (within the realm of reason) expression. If we won't tolerate those who seek to ban books, we shouldn't tolerate fatcats within the publishing industry who seek to prevent scrutiny with threats of legal or other retaliatory action.

If you're wondering why I posted this, go back to the first paragraph. And remember: if you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything. I finally had to stand up.   

Monday, September 22, 2014

What constitutes virginity?

This Thursday, September 25, Harmony Ink will release Ben Raphael's All-Star Virgins. Although it's a YA story, and in spite of its title, it isn't about a group of teenage guys losing their virginity.

And yet, it is.

Sexual virginity is part of the theme, but it's the least important part. Two threads run through the story: the loss of youthful innocence (a more significant kind of purity than sexual inexperience), and the true nature of self-acceptance, which has little to do with the approbation of others.  

The five 16-year-old friends who comprise the Ben Raphael All-star Virgin Order all have their own reasons for being part of BRAVO. Two want attention and affirmation from their peers and teachers. Three want to deflect attention from personal secrets while garnering that affirmation. Their individual motives all have certain elements in common, though: fear, neediness, and naiveté. It’s these qualities that make the young men “virginal”—in the ways of the world and of human nature.

One pivotal event serves as their initiation into adulthood. Although this assault by life’s harsh realities is painful and irreversible, it also helps the boys reorder their priorities. The insights they gain will help them find the kind of contentment that doesn’t come from being widely admired but instead comes, quietly and securely, from within.

A third, related thread has to do with a predatory female teacher, but that's a whole other discussion. If you read this novella and have questions about it, please feel free to message me. This is a touchy, complicated subject that has nothing to do with "slut shaming" and everything to do with abuse of authority, and it happens more often than you might realize. I was once a teacher, so my feelings are strong. (Guess you got a taste of my attitude in Xylophone if you read it.) Taking advantage of people too young, insecure, and/or troubled to make reasoned choices is INEXCUSABLE.

Thanks in advance if you choose to buy and read Ben Raphael's All-Star Virgins!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Where have all the villains gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Interview and Giveaway!

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Have I been writing Bummer Fic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Cover Reveal

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

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

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

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

~ Coming September 25 from Harmony Ink ~

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

More Book Info

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

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

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

Saturday, July 05, 2014

99-cent Book and New Blurb

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cover Reveal

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

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

Coming August 6 from Dreamspinner Press.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dicks with Dicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Release Day!

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Contract, New Review

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

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

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Save the redwoods! Love the gays!

One of my guilty pleasures is watching a couple of Fake Housewives of Clueless City shows, because it fascinates me to see how the other half lives. Just recently, one of those privileged female stars said something that provoked this shout from me to the TV: "Are you fuckin' kidding me?"

This is what came out of the pie hole of Sonja Morgan, NYC Legend in Her Own Mind: "I love my gays." That's a verbatim quote. "I LOVE MY GAYS."

Dafuq? Need I explain why I nearly launched myself out of the recliner? Well, I'm going to anyway.

Those four words, uttered with such self-congratulatory gusto, made me sick. Were I a gay man, I would've shouted something else at the TV. Maybe, "I am not yours, bitch. I am not a bragging point. I don't exist to contribute to your public posturing. Nor am I one of your personal accessories, like a hat or corset or boa. Nor am I part of a happily homogeneous aggregate that you treat like a cause du jour. Save the redwoods! Love the gays! Leave me out of your mission, you fatuous, presumptuous twit."

At that moment it was clear to me, a cis-gendered heterosexual female, that possessive modes of thought and expression severely undermine any GLBTQ ally's sincerity, no matter how good our intentions are. They make us look like self-aggrandizing users. And maybe some of us are.

Since watching that episode of Fake Housewives, I've combed through my memories of relationships with people unlike myself. Have I ingenuously dragged them out to use as bragging points? Oh, look at soft-hearted, liberal me with all these black/Indian/gay/lesbian/handicapped/[insert minority group] friends! Yeah, probably (I'm ashamed to confess), at some points in my life. But I can say unequivocally that I never thought of or referred to any of these individuals as a collection or, worse yet, as MINE. And I've never professed my love for all members of any human group. Doing so is the height of either delusion or deceitfulness.

If I learned anything from that stupid TV show, it's the need for constant self-monitoring. Ill-chosen words aren't always innocuous. They can be profoundly offensive and/or indicative of questionable motives. Caring should never come off as condescension. A supportive boost should never be accompanied by boasting. And possessive adjectives and pronouns used in relation to people must be applied with great care.    

Monday, April 07, 2014

Cover Reveal

Coming April 30 from Dreamspinner Press
The Final Book in the Mongrel Trilogy

Cover by Anne Cain

The closing-day flea market at the Marvelous Mechanical Circus always draws a colorful crowd, but salesman Will Marchman doesn’t expect to see a large, elaborate gold wagon on the plaza -- especially one called The Spiritorium. The wagon’s exotic looking owner claims he can perform “cleansings and siphonings” via a miracle-working machine housed within. He can supposedly flush the wickedness out of people and places.

The Spiritorium appears in the Mongrel village of Taintwell the next day, setting off a potentially tragic chain of events that begins with a shocking revelation. To make matters worse, Fanule Perfidor, de facto mayor and Will’s lover, has been neglecting to take the tonic that stabilizes his moods. Besieged by his illness, Fan drives Will away. Then Fan’s best friend, vampire Clancy Marrowbone, vanishes, causing a rift between him and his mortal lover. Then Will disappears.

As Fan regains control of his mind, he knows what he must do to save his village and the people most important to him. He must solve the mystery of the Spiritorium and its master. This means delving into truths about himself and his Mongrel lineage he'd never before had to face ... and confronting a man he'd hoped never to see again.

The trial, if Fan passes it, will make him worthy of the title Eminence of Taintwell. And worthy of the far more meaningful labels life partner and friend

Monday, March 17, 2014

Life is ablaze with sunshine! When it isn't steeped in gloom.

Writers are emotional creatures who wind themselves up for countless reasons. Small wonder readers often get fed up with us. Sometimes I get fed up with myself.

Do the following sound familiar?

I have a new idea/contract/cover/release/blog tour! J I’m going to a conference! J I’m going as an author instead of a nobody! J J An author who’ll be in the spotlight, like Liza Minnelli in Cabaret! J J J I can’t go to this conference. L But I’m going to that conference! J I scored a great story prompt at Goodreads! J I didn’t score a story prompt. L I got a glowing review! J I got an ickycaca review from a poopbutt who doesn’t understand my work. L I won a contest! J I lost a contest. L I’m in DABWAHAHAHAHA although I have no clue how I got there or even what it is! J I hate those stupid people who run that stupid tournament ‘cause they're poopbutts who play favorites. L Readers and reviewers love me! J Readers and reviewers don’t love me enough. L Readers and reviewers are brainless poopbutts who ignore me. L L I don’t deserve love because I’m a brainless poopbutt. L

A lot of this kind of stuff has been swirling through social media lately. Since I’ve contributed to the whirlwind, I figured it’s time to step away and go in search of a precious and elusive commodity: reality.

Ah, I think I see it there, at my local resale shop!

Every time I go to a resale shop, I gravitate to the book section. Most of you probably do. And at some point I start to mourn all the dozens of "masterpieces," with beat-up dustjackets or no jackets at all, that are doomed to languish unnoticed on the shelves. I think of the men and women who penned them, how thrilled and proud they were to get published -- then how, ten or thirty or fifty years later, they fell into total, impenetrable obscurity.

Imagine how Edna Winchester’s ego swelled when A Chalice of Rubies  was issued. Did she celebrate? Sure she did. Maybe donned her best lemon-yellow cocktail suit with rhinestone buttons and went to a nice restaurant with her husband. Maybe drank one-too-many glasses of champagne afterward. Her mild hangover was worth it, though. A Chalice of Rubies made her that special being called an “author.”

But that was in 1962. Regardless of Edna’s creation being offered by the Book of the Month Club as an alternate selection, regardless of it being condensed for Reader’s Digest, regardless of raves and pans and an award for Best Historical Novel of the Year by the Crown and Quill Writers’ Guild, A Chalice of Rubies now sits -- ragged, ignored, and leaning piteously -- on a warped and dusty shelf. Nobody’s willing to pay so much as a dime for it. Nobody’s even heard of Edna Winchester. In fact, nobody other than Edna's friends and family have heard of her since 1974.

So, my writer friends, if you ever find yourselves fussing over reviews, either good or bad, or feeling pumped up by a contest win or deflated by a contest loss; if you’re ever tempted to pat yourselves on the back or kick yourselves in the ass because of your success or lack thereof . . . go to a garage sale or any store that sells other people's unwanted crap. Scan the books. Note how many author names you don’t recognize. Note how many books couldn’t interest you less. Pick up one that's bound in cheap, paper-covered boards or barely clinging to a faded and tattered dustjacket, and think about its short journey from pride-and-joy to piece of shit.

Believe me, you’ll get a humbling adjustment in perspective. You'll realize the vast majority of fiction is throwaway fiction. Nothing you do, don’t do, are, aren’t, score, don’t score as a writer will ever seem quite so earth-shattering anymore.

Until, of course, that next release or review or conference or contest . . .