August 26, 2015
I can’t help it, there’s nothing like a guy in a tux. I just had to get James and Gabe into formal clothes at least once. Then of course I had to get those clothes off.
The doors slid open. A Town Car was waiting at the curb. They didn’t talk as they made the short trip to Gabe’s building. They just held hands and watched the lights go past outside.
They didn’t even talk as the elevator took them swiftly and smoothly up to Gabe’s place. The lights automatically came on as they stepped out of the elevator, neither too fast nor too bright; a soft fade-up to a warm glow.
Gabe stepped close and pulled on James’s bow tie until it came loose and slipped from around his neck. He let it drop through his fingers; it fell to the floor without even a whisper. He put the tips of his fingers to James’s cheek next. James leaned into them, noticing the way two were rough and two were smooth. Gabe must have been chewing on them again.
He reached up and pulled on Gabe’s tie. It slid from its knot more easily than his had. The silk was cool on the ends and warm where it had gone around Gabe’s neck. He let it drop from his fingers as well.
Gabe took a few steps back, and James followed as if being led in a dance. And he followed where Gabe led. It was so easy and felt so right. He usually avoided the easy path. Easy was usually wrong.
Gabe changed directions, moving quickly behind James and slipping his coat from his body. James shivered at the sudden change in temperature, from being wrapped in the sultry jacket to having only the fine linen shirt between his body and the air.
The chill left as quickly as it had arrived. Gabe stepped in close, pressing himself to James’s back, putting out a powerful heat. He leaned back, still feeling like he was in a dance that had no music with a rhythm that was in constant flux. But still Gabe was leading perfectly.
Gabe stripped off his own jacket without ever taking his chest from James’s body. He let the jacket drop to the floor, not even bothering to toss it toward the hooks as he had with James’s.
He pressed his lips to James’s neck, right above his collar. James felt his toes curl and his body tingle. Gabe’s fingers were back, skimming along his cheek, and his thumb brushed across James’s lips. He flicked out his tongue to tickle it.
Gabe exhaled long and slow, his warm breath slipping under James’s collar. His fingers left James’s face and went instead to his throat, popping open the high collar buttons. James let out a long breath, unaware of just how constricted he had felt until that moment.
Gabe slid around him until they were once again face-to-face. He thought they might kiss, but instead Gabe just looked at him, eyes dark in the dim light. He felt his breath hitch and that tightening in his chest return. It was so much like the way Gabe had looked at him their first night. All those months ago now, standing so close that James had been able to smell the hint of peppers on his skin.
Now Gabe smelled faintly of fancy cologne that had nearly worn away.
He took Gabe’s hand and laced their fingers together as if they would dance. Gabe took his other hand, lifted it, and kissed his palm. James closed his eyes and nearly fell forward. Gabe kissed the heel of his palm next and then placed a kiss on the inside of his wrist. James whimpered softly. Somehow those three small kisses had his head spinning with greater pleasure than kisses in far more intimate areas.
Gabe stepped backward, leading them with just the knowledge of the dimensions of his own home.
He didn’t lead them to the bedroom, but rather to the large couch of cool leather draped with blankets of the same spun and woven silk as the one on Gabe’s bed. He sat on them and drew James onto his lap, giving James the height advantage for once.
James took it, tilting Gabe’s head back and into a slow, lazy kiss, their tongues just flitting around each other’s, chasing the flavor of champagne. Gabe’s arms went around his body, pulling him close. James’s fingers went into Gabe’s hair, tangling themselves in the dark curls, destroying the last of the control imposed by handfuls of hair gel that smelled slightly of mint and clashed with the cologne.
Gabe sighed into the kiss and held James tight.
He and Gabe kissed. He didn’t think about time; he didn’t think about anything beyond the feel of Gabe’s arms around him and the taste of Gabe on his lips, the sound of their tiny moans and sighs in his ears.
At some point Gabe pulled away from the kiss and took a deep breath. He leaned in, laying his head against James’s chest. James became aware of his own heart pounding strong and steady. Gabe looked up at him, a small soft smile on his lips. James kissed those lips, then stood. Gabe followed.
This time James took Gabe’s hand and led the dance toward the bedroom. There was no rush. He was content to keep kissing if that was all the night had in store, but he wanted to be lying down in Gabe’s arms while it happened.
Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) available through Dreamspinner Press.
August 26, 2015
Empty Nests and Bowerbirds in an odd way is for my dad. He wasn’t a single parent and rumor aside not gay (I don’t think, there are days), but he did end up primary care giver the first couple years of my life. It was supposed to be my mother but my father got injured and lost his job just a few days before I was born. My mother was out of work and it became a matter of who could get a job first. This meant my mom going back to work when I was six weeks old and my dad left holding the baby.
This was in the early 80′s, long before the internet and easy access to stay at home dad groups. My dad was the youngest in his family so had no experience with kids. His family was an hour away and my mom was not on good terms with her family. Add in that my dad came out of a very machismo oriented background and he was left reasonably alienated.
I like to think (and it’s my opinion that matters in this) that he handled it pretty well. I think his sense of humor helped a lot. When my mom would tell him to go check the baby he’d get a pen and draw a little check somewhere on me. It’s funnier if you know my dad. I’m surprised with myself that I managed to get two years into doing the parent thing without giving into the temptation. By this point my kid would probably take it as permission to draw allover herself and anyone else. He delivered bottles as if he was a French waiter, rushed back to the park to retrieve forgotten stuffed animals, made up bedtime stories, and read Elephant Goes to School about fifty million times without going completely nuts.
He also took a lot of grief from other guys and didn’t get a lot of respect when he explained that two year gap in his resume. But he kept his chin up, pushed through, and I don’t think overly messed me up which in this day and age counts for a lot.
So James is for my dad and all of the dads who have stepped into what much of society still thinks of as a female role.
James bent backward and listened to his spine crack. Despite the noises, his back was in better condition, or at least a few decades younger, than Mrs. Gonzales’s, which was why he was helping her lug bolts of fabric up the stairs. It was her second granddaughter’s quinceañera in a couple of months, and she was sewing all the dresses, which meant stitching up about a million miles of pink satin and tulle.
At least Mrs. Gonzales’s granddaughter was shorter than he was. With Mrs. Maldonado’s granddaughter’s prom dress the previous year, he’d been roped into acting as a living dress stand while it was hemmed, instead of just helping with the hemming. Dylan still had the photos hidden somewhere. He didn’t actually mind helping out with things like hauling groceries, rolling tamales, or handstitching a million seed pearls onto white taffeta. The women of the building had acted as Dylan’s aunties and grandmothers over the years, providing babysitting, hand-me-downs, advice, and more than a few meals when he and Dylan got truly desperate.
Mrs. Gonzales let them into her apartment where the Virgen de Guadalupe stared at him from at least three walls.
“¿Dónde los quieres?”
“Con los demás.”
James put the bolts of fabric on the table with a half dozen others while Mrs. Gonzales went into her kitchen to make them both some coffee.
He followed her into the kitchen, which was identical to his, where she poured them both thick black coffee, then stirred in condensed milk until it was nearly white. “James, I’ve been seeing you with a man lately? The women are saying you have a boyfriend?”
He accepted a cup of coffee. “I might.” He supposed it had to happen sooner or later. Every other person had been the center of gossip in the building at one point or another. James had managed to avoid it, mainly by being the most boring person on earth.
“You might? I think you do. He looks handsome.”
James pretended to think about it. “I guess. If you like that type.”
“And he looks rich?”
James blew on his coffee. Mrs. Gonzales always made it nuclear hot. “He might be, a little.”
“Rich is good.”
“It’s not important.”
“Rich is good. Rich can take care of you and Dylan.”
James rolled his eyes. “I don’t need anyone taking care of me. I’m not looking for anyone to take care of me. And I take care of Dylan just fine.”
Mrs. Gonzales patted the air in front of James. “Of course you do, but it’s good to have help. If someone wants to take care of you, you should let them. If they’re also kind, and handsome…?”
James sipped his coffee, having no desire to respond to that comment.
“What’s his name?”
“Gabe. Gabriel. Juarez.” He figured the best thing to do with gossip was to feed it as much detail as possible. It seemed to burn out quicker once there was less to speculate on.
“And where’s he from?”
“He grew up in the Bay.”
“Have you met his family yet?”
That was something that hadn’t been brought up except for a quick mention of his sisters. He’d heard more about Gabe’s godchildren. “No, no I haven’t.”
Mrs. Gonzales gave a slightly disapproving squint. “Make sure he does that soon. A man who is ashamed of his family is not a man you should be associating with.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
“Good. Now, what does he do? He better have a good job. Rich without work is begging the devil for trouble.”
James took a deep breath. He was surprised Dylan hadn’t blabbed it around the building. He was as bad a gossip as the rest of them. “He’s the chief financial officer of TechPrim Industries.” He got a slightly questioning look. James pulled his phone from his pocket and showed her the logo on the back. “TechPrim.”
Her eyebrows went up. “He better be taking care of you, then.”
“I don’t need to be taken care of.” James tried not to raise his voice. “I am not a child. I have a job. I manage.”
“Doesn’t mean you should turn him away if he offers. It can be nice to have someone who wants to be helpful.”
“Fine.” He didn’t want to start a fight.
“And if he causes you trouble, you send him to me.”
James stuffed down a laugh. Facing Mrs. Gonzales was a proper threat. Every male under the age of eighty feared her disapproving gaze, which could leave even the most hardened soul squirming like a child.
“I’ll be sure to warn him.”
Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) available through Dreamspinner Press
August 26, 2015
Back in Ye Olden Days of text based roll playing computer games there always seemed to be that one peasant you ran into who just happened to know everything you needed to know about that castle north of the village and nothing else. I try to avoid that in my supporting characters. I have a great love for them and do my best to make them as well rounded as possible and give them a reason for existing other than just moving the plot. I’m particularly fond of Tamyra and rather tempted to write a couple of short stories staring her.
WHEN JAMES finally woke from his second nap, they ordered Chinese food, sat on the couch, and talked about nothing important. They made out on the couch, ate dinner, made out some more, then moved to the bedroom for some precarious lovemaking. It had been after midnight, and James had been fast asleep again when Gabe let himself quietly out of the apartment. He’d left a note by the bed, promising to call.
Now Gabe was using his sliver of a lunch break to query the almighty Internet on dating people with kids. Dylan had mostly come around to his side after he did his best to prove he wasn’t screwing with James, but if Gabe wanted to get James out of town, he was going to need Dylan’s backing. And any serious relationship moves would quite possibly need Dylan’s approval, or at least his advice. Gabe glared at his computer monitor. The all-knowingness of the Internet was failing him. He’d found plenty on step-parenting and a couple of blog posts about dating people with small children, but nothing that seemed to apply to his situation.
Tamyra came in and put a suspiciously healthy-looking sandwich on his desk before plopping herself down on the couch and tucking into a salad of her own.
“Tam, have you ever dated anyone with kids?”
“No. I’m not really good with kids.”
Gabe lifted the top piece of whole grain and seed bread on his sandwich and squinted at the sprouts under it. “Me neither.”
“My niece was about five when my sister started dating again. Seriously, though, James’s kid is practically an adult.”
Gabe shoved the sprouts aside to find dandelion greens. “I know. I just want to keep in his good books, and I don’t want James to feel like he’s losing time with Dylan to be with me.”
Tamyra shrugged. “My sister used to do these family dates every month or so with her, Julia, and her boyfriend. They’d go to the zoo. Stuff like that.” Gabe pushed aside the dandelion leaves to reveal grilled vegetables. “Stop playing with your sandwich and eat it.”
“Only if I find bacon on the bottom.”
“You have a meeting in fifteen minutes and you don’t have a free second between then and seven. Eat it.”
Gabe started chewing on the top slice of bread. “Why are you still my PA?” It was a question he asked himself regularly but only actually asked Tamyra a few times. He’d yet to get a good answer.
“Because you’d die without me.”
Gabe pushed aside the rest of his sandwich. He’d swing through marketing later. They always had good leftovers from some department party or networking lunch. “I’m serious. You were supposed to be in the job, what, a year? You have more degrees than I do. You know the fine minutiae of every deal we make. Anyone else would have quit or demanded a transfer after six months of putting up with me. You’ve never even asked for a raise.”
“And yet you give them to me.”
“Seriously. What are you doing here?”
Tamyra set aside her salad, which looked about as appetizing as Gabe’s sandwich. “Do you remember the state you were in when I started working for you?”
No, Gabe thought. “Vaguely,” he answered.
“Exactly. You’d had six PAs in five months. They were all either trying to get into your pants or were praying for your soul. My first day you’d had about three hours of sleep in three days. You were trying to shift around the budget so dependents of employees got free flu shots, in the middle of a bidding war for a half-dozen patents, you were fighting with Frank and Nate over if you should even be trying for the patents, and then a bunch of school kids were dragged in, and you were supposed to give them some sort of inspirational talk.”
“Was I inspirational?” Gabe had not a single memory of that day.
“No. You mumbled, babbled, threw in some analogies that made no sense whatsoever, and forgot the name of your own company. The impressive bit was that you pulled yourself up there in that state when any other executive would have just pawned the whole thing off onto someone further down the ladder. I figured at that point you needed someone who wouldn’t try to get into your pants, knew your soul was just fine, and would knock you on the back of the head with a two-by-four if that’s what was needed for you to get some sleep.”
“I wish I could argue with any of that.”
“You’re good at your job, you run a good business, you’re good to your people, but you are crap at taking care of yourself. I’ll move on when I find someone who can take care of you half as well as I can.”
“Or I shove you out the door.”
Tamyra laughed. “Like that’s ever going to happen.”
Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) available through Dreamspinner Press
August 21, 2015
Hello all! I’m pleased to be back on the Dreamspinner Blog to talk about the release of the third novel in my Serpentine Series: Sex, Love, and Videogames.
The Serpentine Series books are standalone contemporary novels set at the University of Virginia. Although many characters are in more than one book, each book can be read separately. Sex, Love, and Videogames features Jed Carter, who is the quiet nice guy Pete Morgan takes advantage of in Serpentine Walls. Its other main character is Charlie Ambrose, who is what U.Va. students call a “townie.” Charlie is biracial and grew up in a tight-knit African-American family and church community in Charlottesville. Besides the two main characters, the book is the story of Morocco Ambrose, Charlie’s cousin. She’s transgender and as extroverted as Charlie is introverted. Another extrovert, Jed’s best friend Myesha, rounds out the central cast of characters.
Writing Sex, Love, and Videogames surprised me. I couldn’t get a handle on Jed’s love interest. I thought it was going to be his older brother Kent’s college roommate, Tucker. But the story wasn’t going anywhere with that plot and I was having a hard time getting into Jed’s head. The light-bulb finally turned on when I realized I was again relegating Jed to the sidelines in favor of a more compelling character (Tucker), just the way Jed was relegated to the sidelines by Pete in Serpentine Walls.
With that realization, a character named Charlie emerged: a shy artist who isn’t part of the university crowd. Charlie was white when I first visualized him, but quickly he was in my head as biracial. And his amazing transgender cousin Morocco was right there with him. People think writers plan all this out in advance: “Aha! I know – I’ll have a biracial townie and his trans cousin in the Jed novel!” If I were to show you my first outlines of the story, Charlie and Morocco are nowhere to be found. But once they popped up, I went with it. And it turned out that Charlie and Jed are perfect for each other.
I grew up in the DC area, which is quite diverse, and have had many close friends of other races and ethnicities. Still, I’m glad Dreamspinner has a Diversity Panel because even though I agree books need diverse characters, I live in fear of being unknowingly offensive or racist or whatever else I have unknowingly done. Members of the diversity panel read my draft and pointed out places where I put my foot in it, thus allowing me to withdraw my foot by hitting the delete button.
I struggled with how to write dialect without being too over the top. (For the record, we DO say y’all in Northern Virginia!) I was informed one of the terms I used to describe transgender was no longer welcome. I read books on being black and gay in the South and books on the transgender experience. I talked to people who live further South than I do about aspects of the culture there. (Did you know “bless your heart” means “screw you” in Southern?)
And all the while, Charlie and Morocco and their family were talking in my head and I knew them. I knew all about them and loved them. I want a Granny Myrt of my own. Or maybe not Granny Myrt until she evolves her beliefs about LGBTQ folks, but an Aunt Tawniece. I want Morocco and Myesha to be my besties and call me “girl.” I want to go out dancing with them and get our funk on.
Jed is still being outshined, because he and Charlie are never going to be as “out there” as Morocco and Myesha. But that’s okay, because Jed ends the story knowing who he is and where he wants to go in life, and having a great guy by his side.
Jed made it out of the frat house and walked toward the dorm through the crowds of bid-night revelers. He hadn’t thought about how awkward things could get with him and Kent in the fraternity together. Frats meant parties, which meant alcohol and girls. Put Kent in the middle of that, with his “everyone follow me over the cliff” personality, and that was it. Jed was sunk. Dead meat. He’d either have to persuade Myesha to be his beard, or… come out?
Right. Get real.
As if summoned by the gay unicorn gods, Aidan Emery and his merry band of queers appeared, strutting down the sidewalk, laughing and singing. Jed’s insides contorted with jealousy. He wanted to stick out his foot and trip them for daring to be so openly gay and happy about it.
Coming out? To Kent and a bunch of Wahoos in SAE? To the rugby team? To the world in general? No way.
Jed changed course and headed to Lucky’s. He’d thought about going to lift weights at the university gym, but the truth was, he was tired of everything U.Va., with its fraternities, homophobia, and all the rest. He needed a videogame fix. Kent had told him Lucky’s had the best selection in town. The wind picked up, carrying with it a hint of snow. He pulled his coat closer around him and started a slow jog, relieved to be leaving the Grounds and the parties behind.
Ten minutes later, Jed reached Lucky’s, breathing hard but feeling more centered as he pushed open the door. He stopped to survey the scene, having never been there. The place was hopping—people eating, drinking, playing pool and pinball—and there against the far wall were huge screens and sofas for gamers. He went over to scope out the games.
“Let me know if I can help you with anything.”
A handsome black guy stood next to the counter. He gave Jed a shy smile, and Jed smiled back. Zing. Jed had never thought about having gaydar, but this guy set something off in him that said they were playing for the same team.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“D-depends.” The guy came to stand next to him. He was a couple inches taller than Jed and he smelled nice. Plus he had striking greenish-brown eyes. His nametag read Charlie. “W-what’re you into?”
You. Jed’s cheeks warmed. Damn stupid blushing. “I like Halo, Mass Effect, stuff like that. But I also like fantasy games. I was way into Oblivion in high school.”
Charlie picked out a game and handed it over. “You’d l-like this if you haven’t p-played it. It came out a c-couple months ago.”
“Dragon Age: Origins. Cool. I’ve been wanting to try this one. Thanks.” He followed Charlie back to the counter. “You go to U.Va.?” Jed wasn’t usually this forward in striking up conversations, but something about Charlie—his obvious shyness, his slight stutter—made Jed want to put him at ease. To Jed’s dismay, his question seemed to embarrass him.
“N-no.” Charlie shut his mouth in a grim line as he rang up Jed’s rental.
“Oh.” Jed cast around for something else to say but a bunch of high school kids rushed up to the counter, clutching games. Charlie didn’t meet Jed’s eyes as he handed over Dragon Age and turned to his new customers. “Um, thanks.”
Jed left Lucky’s, puzzling over Charlie’s response. So he’s a “townie.” So what? Oh well. The guy hadn’t seemed all that interested in Jed anyway. He lost himself in reading the game jacket as he walked back to the dorm.
Near Alderman Library, he heard, “Carter, you are so busted!” Bud weaved toward him on the sidewalk. “Where the hell’d you go?”
“Like hell you did. I—oh.” Bud lurched and Jed caught him by one arm.
“Someone’s wasted. You need help getting back?”
“Naw, ’m’fine. But don’t cut out on us like that, boy. I love ya, man!”
Jed watched fondly as Bud stumbled off into the night, then hoofed it to his dorm room.
Time for videogames.
Buy Link for Sex, Love, and Videogames:
How to reach CJane Elliott:
Answer the question below for a chance to win any book from my backlist of novels and novellas.
Late teens and early twenties is the time when people start to figure themselves out, often breaking away from their family’s idea of them, or going outside of their childhood comfort zones. Jed and Charlie did all of these in Sex, Love, and Videogames. Now for the question:
What was one of your first experiences in your late teens or early twenties where you stepped beyond your childhood comfort zone and started to be an adult? And was it fun or was it depressing?
August 19, 2015
Hi all! Charley Descoteaux here to chat with you about my new release, Buchanan House. I’m so excited to be here with you! The day job might make me slow to reply, so please bear with me. I’ll be popping in and out for the next few days.
Before I go any farther I want to tell you about the giveaway. At the end of this post I’ll ask a question, and every answer is a chance to win an ebook. I’m giving away one copy of every ebook on my backlist and that means there will be six winners!
I’m a huge fan of the Marvel movies, so I’m calling this an origin story for my contemporary Romance. ☺
Last summer I got a shiny new degree and a new Evil Day Job to go with it. Not as evil as my last one, but it still keeps me busy when I’d rather be writing. Before going back to cubicle-land I took a short vacation to the Oregon Coast. I love the beach and the Pacific Ocean, and as has happened before I was struck with inspiration while walking on the beach.
The original inspiration was for a murder mystery, but I let the guy live and turned it into a pure Romance. “Pure” as in that’s the main plot, not as in “pure as the driven snow.” Buchanan House has sexy-times but even though it deals with the effects of bullying it’s a sweet and almost lighthearted story. Due in large part to the location. Lincoln City just might be more accepting than Portland, if the number of same-sex couples openly behaving as couples was any indication. I saw so many men with men and women with women in those few days—it made me feel very much at-home, even though it was my first time there.
Since it was my first time, I did a lot of exploring. To the south of the hotel I found a secluded area that looked to be about the size of a suburban cul de sac. One of the homes was for sale and I thought about how cool it would be to write a story with a bunch of guys getting away from the city to live there. Nobody would believe a group of friends buying up all the homes in the neighborhood, though. What would they do for a living? How would they afford those rustic old homes (even if the prices made my m0uth water)? There aren’t a lot of good jobs on the coast so they’d have to bring a means of income with them—and since the largest industry on the Oregon coast is tourism, that question was answered fast!
One object in the book also has its own origin story: the hand carved bench on the front porch. Last year when I celebrated the release of The Nesting Habits of Strange Birds I had a wonderful time with a Goodreads chat. A lot of fun people gave me great ideas for an object to honor Eric’s grandmother. Penumbra suggested a bench, and I love the way it appeared in the story. It’s almost the headstone Eric would’ve chosen for his grandmother if it had been up to him, but a little more fun than that.
Okay, I think I’ve gone on long enough. If you have any questions you’d like to ask, about the book or me or what I’m working on now, please don’t be shy! I might be slow, but I’ll be happy to answer.
As for my question, I’d love to hear an origin story of yours! Do you have an object or a superpower with a story? If not, make one up! The more outlandish the better!
On Saturday the 22nd I’ll choose the winners by random number generator so don’t forget to include your Dreamspinner Store account email address with your stories! Each winner will get an ebook from my backlist (every book except Buchanan House, in order of release)!
Here’s a little about Buchanan House—the blurb and an exclusive excerpt!
Eric Allen, thirty-three-year-old line cook, moved in with his grandmother, Jewell, after a disastrous coming-out when he was in middle school. She raised him, and he cared for her when she fell ill. When Jewell died she left everything to Eric—angering his parents and older brother. The inheritance isn’t much, but Eric and his bestie Nathan pool their money and buy an abandoned hotel on an isolated stretch of the Central Oregon Coast. The hotel isn’t far from Lincoln City—a town with its own Pride Festival and named for a president—so they christen it Buchanan House after James Buchanan, the “confirmed bachelor” president with the close male friend.
Eric and Nathan need a handyman to help them turn Buchanan House into the gay resort of their dreams. Eric finds Tim Tate in the local listings and over the months leading to opening weekend Tim reveals himself as a skilled carpenter with many hidden talents. Eric falls hard for Tim, but before he can see a future with the gorgeous handyman he has to get over twenty years of being bullied and shamed by his birth family. It would be much easier if Eric’s brother Zach weren’t trying to grab part of the inheritance or ruin opening weekend.
This excerpt is from one of Eric and Nathan’s days off—they’re in the backyard of Buchanan House, watching a lone surfer.
Nathan rested the cookie plate on top of his mug and brought his own binoculars to his eyes. “Wow. Is that…. Yes, I do believe that is Tim Tate, superhero, handyman, and also, apparently, surfer dude!”
Nathan sounded inordinately pleased to announce what Eric had seen for himself. Which probably meant he’d already known it was Tim. Somehow. Eric pointedly ignored his tone, but kept watching Tim walk toward the rocks south of Buchanan House.
Tim didn’t seem to be in any hurry. He stopped a few times to look at things the tide had washed in, poking the sand with his foot and once bending at the waist for a closer look. Eric wondered if he’d found any tsunami debris. Signs were posted anywhere tourists were likely to pull off the Coast Highway, along with Tsunami Debris Watch depositories. Eric wanted to find something with Japanese writing on it, an object that had traveled all the way across the Pacific to reach him, but had yet to see anything even close. Not that he’d had a ton of time to walk the beach or participate in Lincoln City’s nightlife, but he hadn’t exactly been a hermit either.
Eric thought he should stop spying on Tim but couldn’t bring himself to lower the binoculars. Tim seemed more relaxed than he was at Buchanan House, his walk more athletic, graceful. On workdays, Tim wore comfortable, almost loose jeans, and T-shirts either under a flannel or over a thermal. He almost looked like a different man. Eric had tried to get a feel for what the body beneath the clothes looked like, without being caught staring, but hadn’t enjoyed the level of success he’d hoped for. After seeing Tim in a wetsuit, Eric knew his fumbling guesses hadn’t even been close. The suit clung to Tim’s broad shoulders and chest, tapering to trim hips, only to bulge again over his defined thigh muscles. He looked like a god.
“Mm-mm-mmm. That is a tasty dish.” Nathan bumped his shoulder into Eric’s.
Before Eric could respond to Nathan’s teasing, Tim unzipped the top of his wetsuit. Eric stood, transfixed, as Tim peeled the top half from his body and let it hang around his waist like the bib on a pair of overalls. It was like watching a live-action ad for Men’s Fitness. Tim’s upper body was sculpted to lean perfection—he looked strong and athletic, but not bulky.
His hair sent drops of water sliding down his chest, and Eric thought about licking the salt water from his warm skin, peeling the rest of the wetsuit away, and—
Nathan’s soft laughter interrupted Eric’s fantasy. He practically pushed the binoculars away from his face. Normally he would’ve had the strap around his neck, but because he hadn’t taken the time, the binoculars fell to the ground, landed on his foot, and flopped into the future garden. Eric kept from shouting curses only with great effort. The last thing he wanted was for Tim to see them standing there, binoculars in hand, ogling him like a couple of perverts.
“Yeah, sweetheart. There’s your dessert right there.”
Eric wasn’t sure if Nathan was ignoring his ridiculous move with the binoculars, or if he hadn’t seen it. The show on the beach was definitely more interesting. “Put down your binoculars. He’ll see.”
“And so what if he does?” Nathan let his binoculars rest against his chest, dangling safely from the strap. And then he waved.
“Nathan,” Eric hissed.
Tim obviously saw him. He stopped walking, frozen in place with his surfboard under his arm, still connected to his ankle with what looked like a chain. Slowly, Tim raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sunlight, but who else would it be? Who else would be in Buchanan House’s backyard in his pink robe after noon on a Sunday? When Tim waved back, Eric’s heart sank a little. Of course he was attracted to Nathan. Who wasn’t?
With the notable exception of me, naturally.
Nathan was six one, handsome as a movie star, and never tried to hide he was ripped to boot.
Eric picked up his binoculars and headed back into the kitchen. He limped a little, but not only because his foot hurt. Obviously Little Eric didn’t get the message that this Tim, just like the last one, was nothing more than a fantasy that would end in disappointment, if not outright humiliation.
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August 16, 2015
“That was not how the New Year should be welcomed.” Temple sighed, undoing his bow tie. He and his partners shuffled through the quiet corridors of one of the male wings of the Soldiers of the Sun’s home base.
“I definitely had other ideas myself,” Agni said, and Temple looked back over his shoulder at him.
“Oh, really? And here I thought you were the staid, boring type who probably turned in at nine.”
Caleb suppressed a grin. That baiting sounded much more like the Temple he knew so well.
Agni huffed. “I suppose that means you don’t want to see what I would have done. My blood’s up a little too much to go right to sleep.”
Temple’s green eyes lit up. “I didn’t say that.”
“So I’m not getting sleep anytime soon?” Caleb eyed his partner as he unlocked the door to his apartment. Sometimes Agni surprised him. Caleb thought Agni only entered into this three-way partnership because Caleb asked, but he was beginning to think Agni truly enjoyed having sex with Temple too.
Temple stuffed his tie into his pocket. “You can sleep on the couch, I suppose.”
“As noisy as you are, if I chose that option, do you really think I’d get a moment’s rest?” Caleb slipped out of his overcoat and dress jacket, putting both on the coat rack by his door.
“Then you’ll have to join us.” Temple ran his hand across Caleb’s shoulders.
“Naturally.” Caleb turned and studied Temple’s face. “Are you okay?”
Temple shrugged. “I’m not perfect, but I will be eventually. Don’t want to talk about it now.” He fisted his fingers in Caleb’s starched shirt, pulling him forward into a kiss. “And I get the middle tonight since I earned it. All you did in the fight was stand there looking pretty.”
“And how was I to know which way the demons would run?” Caleb protested, breaking free. He caught Agni’s hand, tugging him toward his bedroom.
Temple followed behind them. “You’re smart. It sounds planned to me.”
“Keep talking, Temple, and your boyfriend for tonight will be found at the end of your wrist,” Caleb volleyed back.
Temple pouted, but he didn’t look particularly sad. “Ouch, you can be so mean.”
Caleb couldn’t hide his grin. If baiting Temple made him less morose, Caleb was happy to do it. It was so very easy to get his goat, anyhow. “You love it when I am.”
“Do not.” Temple’s sulk deepened.
“I have to side with Caleb. You thrive on us being hard on you.” Agni reached back to swat Temple’s arm.
Temple narrowed his green eyes. “I’m beginning to think my hand is the better choice.”
“At least your hand wouldn’t be mean to you,” Caleb agreed.
“And it would do exactly what you want.” Agni grinned.
“You two are just lucky I like you,” Temple huffed. “And I know you’re both damaged, and this is the only way you can show affection.”
Agni wiggled free of Caleb’s grasp, heading for the nightstand. He got out the jar of lubricant and put it in Temple’s hand. “Have fun.”
“And I’m not damaged. I barely remember being at the not-so-nice orphanage,” Caleb said.
“I was thinking more that someone at the orphanage dropped you on your head as a baby,” Temple said, taking off his ichor-splattered dress shirt, dropping it to the floor. His nipples stood up in the chill of the room. He went over and played with the heater controls.
“Go enjoy that jar.” Caleb shoved him.
Temple tossed the jar onto the bed, then tackled Caleb back onto the mattress.
August 16, 2015
Preparing to leave his little apartment within the walls of the Order of the Sun, Temple nearly slammed into his teammates Caleb and Agni. Caleb had his hand raised, presumably to knock. Temple eyed them sourly. “What are you two doing?”
“Taglioferro asked us along to meet your new partner,” Caleb replied, running his sword-calloused hand over his slicked-back blond hair. The gesture made Temple a little dry mouthed. Shaking the dirty thoughts out, Temple realized it made sense his teammates had joined him. Caleb was the team leader, after all. Surely he needed to be there.
“And since you’d be late to your own funeral, we’re here to hurry you up.” Agni made hurry-along motions exaggerated by the newspaper he had in hand—Temple’s paper, which he’d forgotten to pick up. Agni handed it to him. Temple set it on the door-side table, but not before he saw the headline about a couple of deaths of desperate men who’d died after drinking radiator fluid down at the Mon wharf. They had pulled out the potato they were using to detoxify the alcohol a little too soon. Under that was an article about another demon attack on a speakeasy. Hadn’t he and Caleb just cleared a speakeasy the other night?
“You’ll notice I am on time,” Temple grumbled, trying to lock his door. After a few moments of fussing with the key, a metallic clank echoed down the hall, telling him he was doomed. “Damn it, it broke again. Why do we have to live in such falling-down housing?”
“The building has been here a century. It’s bound to have problems.” Caleb shrugged. “Come on. I’m excited to meet our new teammate.”
“I’m nervous,” Temple said, walking down the old stone corridors. The Soldiers of the Sun’s complex had been built with castles in mind, well fortified but dark and cold. “How do I explain what happened to my last partner?”
Caleb shot him a look. “It’s not your fault Li died.”
Did Caleb think Temple blamed himself? Of course he did. Temple had said it more than once. Li had been the love of his life, and Temple watched him bleed to death. Caleb probably worried Temple wasn’t dealing with his guilt. His partners knew him pretty well, but he wished they were easier to hoodwink. He wasn’t well. The closeness he’d felt since all of them had become lovers was good, but it never lasted.
“We were outnumbered,” Caleb said as he opened the exterior door. The wind caught them in its maw, blasting through the open door. The sulfurous stench of the steel mills rode the frigid air.
“Then why does it feel like it is?” As Temple’s shoulders slumped, Caleb favored him with a sharp look. Agni’s face was inscrutable as always. After a brief silence broken only by the whistle of the wind through the buildings, Temple said, “Taglioferro is an understanding guy. He knows what we get up to, but it’s not always easy to find someone with our talents who wouldn’t want to beat us for being shirt lifters.”
“Mostly it means we have to be discreet,” Agni said, turning his cool gaze on Temple. After a second his nose wrinkled. “You’re right. You have a problem.”
Temple made a face. “Go to hell.”
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August 16, 2015
Swing music blared out of the static Temple had been dialing through, making him grin. “That’s better. I want to dance.”
“Must you do that here?” Agni asked. “I was listening to the orchestra before you barged in.”
“You go be boring somewhere else.” Temple waved him off. “I’m going to dance and this is the only radio, so….”
Agni cast a look at Caleb. “I’m regretting not taking him up on his earlier offer.”
When Temple perked up, Agni added, “On going out in the snow. I could have buried him up to his eyes. Maybe that would have kept him out of trouble.”
“I honestly doubt it,” Caleb replied as Temple started gyrating to the music.
Agni lost interest in his book and his tea as he watched Temple. Caleb knew the look in Agni’s dark eyes: honest amusement. “You look very silly dancing by yourself, Temple.”
Nonchalantly Temple danced his way over to the bay window. He pulled the curtain shut, then spun over to Caleb, yanking him up from the couch. “Dance with me.”
“I don’t know how to swing,” Caleb protested, stumbling after Temple.
“I’ll teach you.”
“I’m a horrible dancer.”
“He really is,” Agni put in.
“Nonsense, you’re trainable,” Temple assured him. “I’ve seen you fight. You know how to move. You just have to figure out how to do it to music.”
“Don’t blame me when you lose a toe,” Caleb said, trying to find the beat in the wild music. He gave up and let Temple spin him around.
Agni laughed, watching them. Temple managed to make the complicated dance steps look easy, but Caleb felt like he was wrestling a many-armed demon. The occasional seductive touches Temple lavished on him only served to help that image. Finally Caleb managed to trip them both, and Temple ended up half-over the back of the couch.
Temple buried his fingers in Agni’s curls while he dangled over the couch, trying to drag Agni in for a kiss. Agni put his hand over Temple’s face.
“Don’t even think it.”
“Come on, dance with me, Agni. You’re right, your partner’s awful. He’s going to maim me.” Temple pouted.
“I warned you,” Caleb snorted.
“I’m busy, Temple.” Agni hefted the book he hadn’t been reading for a while.
Temple pushed it down, leaning in for that kiss, then froze. He cocked his head, listening intently. Caleb shut the radio off. The sounds of screams echoed loudly in the night. Cursing, the trio ran for the door where boots, winter gear, and weapons waited for them.
August 14, 2015
Skid Row Serenade is a novel about Tony Leonard, a down-and-out alcoholic war hero suffering from what nowadays we’d call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the 1940s – when this novel takes place – it was more likely to be called ‘shell shock’. During the war, Tony was a commando; he and others of his squad were taken prisoner by the Gestapo and tortured. Because of this, he is emotionally scarred, and can only face the outside world through a buffer of alcohol.
Skid Row Serenade is a noir novel, or what might otherwise be called ‘pulp detective’, a genre that hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest respectability. (When I was in academia, writing genre fiction was seen as something undesirable, almost shameful. You did it, but you never admitted to it, and among the academic community, it wasn’t seen as legitimate writing, not like literary fiction. Writing pulp was and still is too often regarded by intellectuals as the creative equivalent of picking one’s nose in public.) In its earliest incarnation, pulp referred to inexpensive magazines published from about 1896 through the 1950s. It was called ‘pulp’ because of the cheap, wood pulp paper on which it was printed – a direct contrast to the ‘glossies’ or ‘slicks’, magazines printed on high quality paper and often including lavish illustration. Pulps were priced at ten cents each, and within easy reach for almost all readers, unlike the slicks, which were typically twenty-five cents per issue. It doesn’t seem like much money to us nowadays in 2015, but in the dark and dirty 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, a shoulder of lamb went for seventeen cents, and a dozen eggs were eighteen cents; bread throughout much of the United States cost eight cents. If you had twenty-five cents, you had a meal.
Even though pulp fiction had a shady reputation, many of these inexpensive magazines played host to some of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. Writers such as Agatha Christie, (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple); Dashiell Hammett, (Sam Spade, the Continental Op); Elmore Leonard, (Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma); and Raymond Chandler, creator of private detective Philip Marlowe.
Of Marlowe, Chandler said, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything.” Here is the detective as lone wolf, as modern knight errant, a man unafraid to tilt at windmills in pursuit of what he sees as justice.
Skid Row Serenade was directly inspired by Chandler’s The Long Goodbye—specifically, the character of Terry Lennox, the alcoholic war hero who befriends Marlowe and who calls upon him to whisk him out of the country when Lennox’s estranged wife is murdered. The story is told from Marlowe’s point of view, which got me wondering: what would the story look like if it were told from Terry’s point of view? In order to get into that 1940s detective vibe, I listened to the kind of music Tony Leonard – my version of Terry Lennox – might listen to: Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington. I immersed myself (as much as possible) in the culture of the 1940s, specifically the post-war era, when millions of armed forces personnel worldwide were being ‘demobbed’ and sent back to the everyday world they’d left at the beginning of the war. While I didn’t take up smoking again (I quit back in 2001) I did indulge in the cocktails Tony would have ordered: whiskey sours, champagne cocktails, martinis, and Raymond Chandler’s personal favorite, the gimlet.
What’s a gimlet? Half gin, half Rose’s lime juice. Shake over ice in a cocktail shaker; strain into a martini glass and enjoy. Trust me: it’s delicious.
Something interesting happened once I sat down to ‘write Tony’. Maybe it was because of the music, or maybe it was because of the drinks, but I honestly felt as if I were channelling him. Every time I opened my laptop, it seemed he was there, dictating his story to me. All I had to do was take it down. This seemed to confirm something writing teacher Julia Cameron says: ‘writing isn’t about making it up; it’s about taking it down’. I certainly felt that way with Tony living in my head twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
I wanted Skid Row Serenade to have the feeling of an old-time pulp novel, including the snappy patter the genre has always been known for. I wanted it to be funny, but funny with an undercurrent of grimness. For example, Tony muses on his dead wife Janet’s sexual escapades as he flees Los Angeles for Mexico:
“[She] prefer[ed] instead an endless parade of stout young swains eager to fuck her brains out,” Tony says, after Janet has been found brutally murdered, her head beaten to a pulp with what we later find out is a high heeled shoe. “Well, they were out now.”
I wanted the book to have the feeling of a Chandler novel, but not as an intentional copy. Rather, I wanted Skid Row Serenade to read like something Chandler might have written, if he had chosen to write The Long Goodbye from a perspective other than Marlowe’s. There are certain passages that deliberately echo Chandler’s style. For example, Tony’s thoughts as he regards Los Angeles from Mulholland Drive, high above the city:
“Down there, people were crying, being beaten to within an inch of their lives, being disappointed and abandoned, having their bluff called, letting their hair down. Somebody was sitting in an empty room watching the pulse and flicker of the disenchanted neon and waiting for a moving bar of light to fall at a predetermined point along the dank and rumpled sheets of someone’s lonely bed. People were being crushed, being knifed, stabbed and shot; people were bawling their eyes out and people were sitting in a bar drinking themselves into oblivion. People were laughing, celebrating, eating, toasting, gasping, breathing, and dying, and all the while the luminous flesh of the palpitating city didn’t give a sweet goddamn.”
At times, Tony finds himself in down-at-heel bars and taverns, looking for some liquid comfort, most likely in a bottle of gin or bourbon. He’s well aware that his drinking habits are not normal, but he knows he is powerless to do anything about it. His frequent forays into less-than-salutary places and situations see him doling out his usual caustic wit:
“Here.” The barman came back with a bottle of Wild Turkey and a glass. […]“Anything else?” he asked.
“Eternal youth,” I said. “Good teeth. Strong bones. A will to live. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Did I leave anything out?”
The novel noir’s most pertinent distinction is a protagonist who isn’t a cop or detective, but who can instead be seen as either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. The noir character is typically weak, morally corrupt, and self-destructive. If he has morals at all, they are likely his own, drawn from his view of the world; there is little in common with the laws or social mores of the larger world. Because the protagonist is himself a victim (Tony is a horribly damaged prisoner of war turned alcoholic) he has no choice but to victimize others in order to achieve the objective of his own personal end game. Bad things happen to – and around – the noir protagonist, who is sometimes an unwitting patsy and the author of his own destruction.
But it isn’t all bad news for Tony: there is a luscious and brilliant detective to whom he becomes very attached, and while having an alcoholic for a boyfriend isn’t exactly the stuff dreams are made of, Skid Row Serenade definitely has a happily-ever-after.
Now it’s your turn… For a free copy of any book from my backlist, share your favorite cocktail recipes. What really inspires your inner tippler? Tell me about the first time you had it, who made it, and why you love it so much. Does it include exotic or bizarre ingredients like wood, cereal, or vinegar? Does it have hallucinogenic properties, like absinthe or a Mickey Slim? Or does it simply fly you to the moon? Leave your reply in the comments.
Image 1: ”Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen in Washington, D.C.” by Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum – Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (53227(291), 06/00/1936, 27-0692a.gif). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: By The Delicious Life (Vodka Gimlet no. 5 Uploaded by admrboltz) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
July 17, 2015
“Dangit!” Cyrus winced in pain when a splinter broke the skin on his index finger. Man, don’t be a pussy. It’s just a little—fuck! Knew I should’ve worn gloves! You just gotta be the tough guy, Cy. Cyrus shook his hand and hopped around like his pants were on fire. He only wanted to get the cattle through the gate and onto the fields to begin his chores for the day, and he’d be damned if he allowed a tiny piece of wood to stand in the way of him making some money. After all, this was his only means of paying the bills and keeping food on the table. Cereal graining was honest work even for a not-so-honest bastard like Cyrus Abrams.
Still in pain and grimacing from the discomfort, Cyrus sucked on his finger and continued to work with one hand. He needed to get a move on so he’d be able to have everything ready when the truck arrived to pick up his offerings. If he wasn’t ready, the driver would leave without a second look back. He couldn’t have that happen if he wanted to keep beer in the fridge and the utilities paid for the month.
“Eeeee… eee….” The pigs behind him continued making a fuss to get out of the pen.
“Wait your turn, ya hogs! Those bitches right there are my other prime source of income.” For some ungodly reason, nobody really liked buying pork in Great Falls. Beef, on the other hand, was a huge seller, and Cyrus was more than happy to contribute to the market. Money from cereal grain farming could only go so far. He needed cash for spankovision and the whiskey he liked to drink, as well as wages for his assistant.
Cyrus’s eyes narrowed when he glanced at his watch, knowing young Brian Daystar was late… again.
Where is that sonofabitch, anyway?
If only the kid could be as serious about work instead of bedding everybody, Cyrus knew he’d have a model employee. Once Brian got to work, he was a big help, so instead of complaining, Cyrus cut Brian some slack.
If only he were a little older?
Just thinking about the hot Native American babe with long brown hair and beautiful eyes made him hard as nails. He smirked and gave himself a little tug. Whacking off in his dreams of Brian was as far as things would go for Cyrus. He wasn’t interested in long-term relationships with anyone after losing Danny to a gunshot wound to the head.
Instantly, Cyrus’s thoughts of arousal changed to grief. He sucked in a breath and closed his eyes a moment, reliving the whole ordeal.
I’ll never love again.
Nope, he didn’t need anyone after seeing such a horrific event unfold in front of his eyes, and then, to make things worse, they charged him with the murder and sent him to jail for five years until someone finally wised up and acquitted him.
“Falling in love means hurting, and I’m too old to hurt!” Cyrus slammed the gate closed and stalked to the pen where the pigs were bunching up in front, ready to get out. He slipped on his gloves to protect the nick on his finger and shoved the door wide, allowing them to roam free in their part of the yard.
Watching the hogs, he leaned back against the fence and flicked the tip of his Stetson from over his eyes. Looking up into the skies, he squinted from hot sun bearing down on him. Drops of sweat formed on his brow, but he didn’t bother to wipe any of it off.
A little perspiration never hurt nobody.
Cyrus wrinkled his nose and turned his attention to the mud under his feet. He still couldn’t believe how many years had passed since his lover had been mercilessly taken away from him. Attempting to keep from crying, he sniffed and choked back tears. “Danny, sometimes I get lonely, but I know no one will be able to take your place.” Cyrus plucked a toothpick from his shirt pocket and jammed it between his lips. “No one wants me, anyway. I’m too set in my ways and I need my space. I’m better off alone, taking care of the cows and graining cereal, my man. Besides, nothing’s gonna come close to what I had with you.” And they wouldn’t, knowing how picky he was about the men he wanted to bring home with him. Cyrus knew he held them up to a standard that most likely couldn’t be reached.
Although Cyrus knew this to be a fact, he never stopped any man from keeping him company temporarily, but once he got his fill, Cyrus kicked them out without so much as batting an eyelash. He knew it was wrong as hell to force people out of his life, but again, it was for the best.
Cyrus tossed the toothpick away and headed for the barn. With the pigs playing in the mud and the morning chores started, he’d check on the horses. And since he couldn’t find Brian, he’d even collect eggs, things Brian should’ve been doing for his first duty at eight-thirty.
Cyrus stomped through the mire in the other direction. Just as he began walking, Brian rushed from his car, slamming the door behind him. “Cyrus, shit man, sorry I’m late. Just came from… ah… never mind. I’ll get to work!” Brian stumbled to keep from slipping in the muck. He inhaled deeply, pulled his ponytail from out of his jacket, and slapped the white cowboy hat atop his head. “No need to do anything irrational, Cy. I’ll even stay a little later without pay if you like.”
Cyrus shook his head and smirked. “Naw, man, it’s all right. I know you got a life outside this ranch. Just ’cause I’m miserable don’t mean you have to be.” Cyrus handed him the basket.