More teasing! Second excerpt from Guarded.

My newest novella will be available soon–and it will be free! You’ll be able to read it at the Goodreads M/M Romance group, and then later it’ll be downloadable from the web. In the meantime, I’m teasing you with a second excerpt:

 
 
 
The king made a small noise deep in his throat. “I understand you lost your own family to the Kozari.”

The sharp pang never dulled, not even decades later. Even before the war had begun, Volos’s father— an ardent advocate for peace— had been forced to flee Kozar. He hadn’t been safe in Wedeyta, though. Kozari assassins had tracked him down eventually. While Volos hid in terror inside a cupboard, the men had murdered everyone. They’d likely have sought out Volos and killed him too, but a neighbor had been visiting at the time— a sweet boy who was friends with one of Volos’s sisters— and the assassins had mistaken the child for Volos.

“Yes, sir,” Volos said evenly. “My parents and my siblings.”

“How do you feel about the Kozari?” asked Prince Chidehu.

“I don’t…” Volos scratched at his hair. “I killed a lot of them during the war.”

“And?”

“And… it didn’t bring my family back to life.” Did admitting this amount to treason?

“It never does,” the king replied sadly. Then his gaze sharpened. “How far does your loyalty to the crown go?”

“As far as it needs to.” Volos’s heart began to pound heavily, although he wasn’t sure why.

“You’ve risked your life in service to this country. Would you do it again?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“Why?”

“I… I took an oath, sir.”

The king continued to stare at him. “An oath is only words.”

“No, it’s—” Volos stopped himself. Took a deep breath. The ground beneath him now felt more dangerous than any battlefield. “I beg your pardon, Your Majesty. But to me, an oath is much more than that. My promise is… apart from my sword, it’s the only thing of value I possess. And even the best sword can be replaced. My… my integrity cannot.”

It was an honest answer, and perhaps also the right one, because something in the king’s eyes softened slightly, and he nodded. But he wasn’t through with the interrogation. “Captain Hiwot informs me that Berhanu’s display in this room was hardly the first time he’s treated you with… scorn.”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I’ve tried to behave respectfully toward him, and—”

“Yes. Your captain tells me this as well. She says your restraint has been quite admirable, in fact.”

Another shift of the floor beneath him. Volos wished he had something to hold on to for balance. “Thank you, sir.”

“Volos Perun, does your loyalty to the crown extend to Prince Berhanu? Would you risk your life for him as well?”

“Yes, sir,” Volos answered immediately, even though his tongue was thick.

King Tafari and Prince Chidehu exchanged a very long look, clearly having a silent conversation. Perhaps they reached an agreement, because they both turned to him at once.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said Chidehu. “Because you may very well end up dying on my brother’s behalf.”

***

PS–Next Monday you can listen to the amazing Amy Lane and me being interviewed  on the radio. If you’re in the Sacramento region you can listen live, 9am on June 9. Or anyone can listen later online here.

New release, newsy update

I have a newsy little post for you this fine Sunday.

First off, I have a brand new release. It’s a short story called “The Border,” and it’s part of Dreamspinner’s Daily Dose anthology. If you buy the Daily Dose package, you get a story every day in June. Or you can buy stories individually. They all have hurt/comfort themes.

Here’s the blurb:
Injured in a war that has stretched on for years, Sergeant John Peterson guards a lonely border. Aside from passing contact with railship captains, the only person he sees is the enemy: the man who guards the other side of the border. A bad fall places John’s life in the other soldier’s hands. He’s wary of his rescuer, First Lieutenant Thomas Fellowes, but over time he finds himself drawn to his new companion. Both soldiers carry the war in their souls, but they might find peace in each other.

You can buy “The Border” at Dreamspinner Press or at Amazon.

My second piece of news is that I just got the draft cover art for my novella The Pillar and I’m really excited about it. The art’s by Shobana Appavu, who did that incredible cover for Venetian Masks. I love that cover so much I framed a poster-size version to hang on my wall. The Pillar is set in 15th century Bosnia. It releases in August and I’m really excited to share it with you. Here’s that blurb:

During his youth, orphaned thief Faris was flogged at the pillar in the town square and left to die. But a kind old man saved him, gave him a home, and taught him a profession. Now Faris is the herbalist for the town of Zidar, taking care of the injured and ill. He remains lonely, haunted by his past, and insecure about how his community views him. One night, despite his reluctance, he saves a dying slave from the pillar.
A former soldier, Boro has spent the last decade as a brutalized slave. Herbs and ointment can heal his physical wounds, but both men carry scars that run deep. Bound by the constraints of law and social class in 15th century Bosnia, Faris and Boro must overcome powerful enemies to protect the fragile happiness they’ve found.
 
And, third piece of news! On Monday, June 9, the ever-amazing Amy Lane and I will be interviewed on the radio! The show is Insight, which airs on NPR stations in the Sacramento region. If you get one of those stations, you can listen live at 9am. Or anyone can listen later online. I’m really excited by this and also terribly, horribly nervous.
 
My kids had their last day of school on Friday, so part of my life for the next months involves keeping the older one from permanently attaching herself to electronic devices and keeping the younger one from tormenting the older one. Yeah, good luck to me. I took younger one to the library yesterday and she came home with a big stack of thick books, but she’s already polished one of those off. Because she got straight As in 9th grade, the older one earned a reward: she’s now allowed to watch R-rated movies. She celebrated by watching The Breakfast Club last night. That movie might be ancient, but she totally loved it. I see more John Hughes in her future.
 
That’s all for now. I’m off to write about werewolves in 19th century Oregon!

 

Weird Research

I think I’ve confessed here before that one thing I love about writing is doing the background research.

Sometimes my reason for enjoying the research is obvious, such as the many times I’ve–tragically, I know–found myself needing to know something about men’s underwear. No, seriously. My husband’s a confirmed boxer-briefs-from-Target kind of guy, so if I want my guys to wear anything more exotic than that, I can’t rely on Hubby as an information resource. I’ve visited the Andrew Christian website enough times that their ads keep appearing on websites I visit. Again, tragic.

But not all my enjoyable research involves nearly-naked men. Sometimes I like the challenge of it. For my novella The Pillar, which will come out in August, I needed to know how much a male slave would have cost in 15th century Bosnia. I never found a definitive answer to that one. But I did find out the cost of a slave in Venice during the same timeframe, and I found out the name of the currency used in Bosnia  then, and I even was able to do a currency conversion to arrive at an approximation that’s close enough, I think.

So now I’m writing a story set in rural Oregon in the 1880s. I’m only about 5000 words in, but here are the things I’ve looked up so far:

  • How to load and shoot a shotgun from that era– I’m still searching for good info on this
  • What color would a wolf’s eyes glow in lantern light at night?
  • What were the most popular boy names in the USA circa 1860?
  • Were there possums in Oregon in the 1880s?– I vaguely remember hearing they were brought west during the Great Depression, and it turns out that’s true. So no possums in my story.
  • What year did the transcontinental railroad arrive in Portland?– 1883, in case you wondered too.
  • How would a horse be attached to a cart it was going to pull?– Because I know zilch about horses or wagons.
  • Where was a tony place to live in New York City in this era?– Fifth Avenue
  • What would a fairly wealthy young man have for breakfast in Paris in the 1880s?

Sometimes it’s a miracle I get any writing done at all!

Tease tease tease! Excerpt from Guarded.

I do like to tease. So I present to you a brief excerpt from Guarded, a novella that will be available (for free!) sometime this summer. I don’t have the release date yet. This will be part of the Goodreads M/M Romance group’s Love’s Landscapes event.

So for now I present to you the initial interaction between the main characters, Volos Perun and Prince Berhanu.

It doesn’t go well.

*****

 
 
“Get up,” the king said. “Formalities aren’t wanted now.”

Volos rose. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

He kept his eyes trained carefully on the floor, but he could still feel the weight of the king’s gaze— not to mention that of the other man, Prince Berhanu. The prince always looked at him with contempt and disdain, but this afternoon he looked furious as well. Volos wondered what he had done to enrage him.

“What is your name?” the king asked. He didn’t sound angry, at least.

“Volos Perun, Your Maj—”

“And is it true that you speak Kozari fluently?”

Volos snapped his head up in surprise. “I… My father was…”

“Your father was Kozari, yes. I am aware of that. But do you speak the language?”

It had been Volos’s first tongue, and although he’d had little occasion to use it for some years, he still dreamed in Kozari. “Yes, Your Maj—”

“Good.” The king turned to Prince Berhanu. “He will accompany you.”

“No,” growled the prince. “I told you. I don’t need a nursemaid.” He stood with his hands on his hips, perhaps deliberately displaying his impressive musculature. He was a couple of inches shorter than Volos, but as well built.

“He’s not a nursemaid, he’s a guard. It’s not fitting for a prince to travel alone, not even under these circumstances. And it’s not safe. I won’t allow you to go unaccompanied.”

Any man but the prince would have been tried for treason for glaring at the king like that. “Fine,” Berhanu spat. “Give me a guard. But not him.”

“He can speak the language. His presence may ease your interactions with the Kozari.”

“I won’t spend days with that Kozari trash at my side!”

Volos had beaten men senseless for lesser insults. But now, he stood with his face carefully blank, pretending Berhanu’s words hadn’t pierced him like poisoned arrows.

The king had gray hair and a grizzled beard and was much slighter than his son, but when he stomped close to the prince, Berhanu took a step backward. King Tafari poked him in the chest. “This man is a citizen of Wedeyta. He was born here. His mother was from one of our prominent families. And he proved his loyalty during the war. He was a hero. I’m told he saved several dozen Wedey prisoners.”

A flash of sense memory: the reek of urine, shit, and sweat; the sounds of harsh breathing and terrified screams; the taste of blood. Volos hoped neither of the men saw him flinch.

Berhanu shook his head. “I don’t care if he saved half the damn country. I won’t go with him. Surely someone else speaks Kozari. One of our own people.”

King Tafari opened his mouth, then closed it. His shoulders slumped slightly as he gave his son a long look. He turned to face Volos. “My apologies. It seems your services will not be needed in this matter. You may leave.”

Ignoring the prince’s triumphant smile, Volos bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you.” He hoped that his failure to address the prince wasn’t taken as an unforgivable slight— but then, the prince hadn’t said a single word to him. Ever.

Motel. Pool. trivia

Sometimes when I write, I include little details that possibly nobody but me will ever notice. But they make me happy. Sometimes they help me understand a character better, sometimes they tie things together in ways that satisfy my slightly OCD-ish tendencies. Sometimes they just amuse me.

Here are three of them from Motel. Pool.  They’re a little spoilery, so you might want to skip this if you haven’t read the book.

Ready?

Scroll down just a bit….

Okay.

1. Jack in Motel. Pool. is related to Joseph, one of the main characters in Violet’s Present. Joseph was Jack’s uncle. Jack mentions him briefly to Tag at one point.

2. While Jack waits at the Jasper Motel, he thinks he hears a car crash. What he heard was the accident that killed Officer Mike Broderick several years earlier. (Jasper’s a strange place, where things like that can happen–like when Jack daydreams Tag.) Officer Broderick obliquely refers to that accident the first time he meets Tag.

3. About one-third of the way into the book, a character tells us how it’s going to end. But nobody pays any attention.

Did you notice any of these when you were reading?

4. It’s never mentioned in Brute, but when they were young, Lord Meliach had an unrequited crush on Gray. That helps explain his complicated and perhaps conflicted behavior toward Gray years later.

I like it when characters from different stories cross paths.

5. Jeff and Cleve from Venetian Masks make a cameo appearance in Pilgrimage.

6. Of course, Travis and Drew from Speechless meet the Bones guys, Dylan and Chris, in The Gig. And Travis and Drew will also make brief appearances in the third Bones book, Bone Dry. It’s due out this fall.

Labels

I’ve been thinking about this and I’d love to know your thoughts.

The other day, one of my daughters asked me a question: “Hey, Mom. If someone is a transgender woman who is attracted to other women, is she a lesbian?” And then the next day she asked, “Hey, Mom. If two bisexual girls are in a relationship with each other, is it a lesbian relationship?”

She wasn’t trying to be a smartass—they were honest questions. She’s at an age where sexual identities and relationship dynamics are becoming really important. I answered as best as I could.

But her questions got me thinking about labels.

One the one hand, why worry so much about what we call people? Labeling leads to stereotyping. It can place artificial limits on human beings. All of us are way too complicated to be summed up in a word or two. And when it comes to romantic relationships specifically, does it make any sense to classify them? What’s important is that people care for each other, right?

But. But I have degrees in psychology so I know that labeling seems to be an instinctive human trait. And labels can be empowering. They can be a source of pride and solidarity. Sometimes instead of dividing us, they can be a source of commonality, maybe even bringing us together with people who we might otherwise not notice. A label can even have profound legal consequences. For example, it matters in a lot of ways whether two people are domestic partners or spouses.

To what degree are you comfortable with labeling yourself and your relationships? What do you see as some of the risks and benefits? Do we try too hard to label people in our society? Does it make a difference when labels are self-imposed rather than placed on us by others?

Motel Pool locations 6: Route 66

I’ve been posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the sixth and final stop: Route 66.

I’m not generally a huge fan of nostalgia, although I did own a ’55 Ford pickup (fire engine red!) until my second kid was born. And I have a special fondness for Route 66, maybe because it began in my birthdplace–Chicago–and ended in California, where I live now. Most of it’s gone now, replaced by interstate highways.

When Route 66 died, it left ghosts. Stretches of cracked, weed-choked asphalt. Abandoned gas stations, restaurants, and tourist traps. Entire towns gone to ruin.

Last year we took a family road trip to the Grand Canyon. Along the way we passed a former piece of Route 66. You could see where a motel and gas station had once stood, but all that was left were faded signs. I’m a little bit fascinated with abandoned places and the way they seem to reach out and promise you stories. This one reached out and gave me Jack Dayton, Tag Manning, and Motel. Pool. So, you know, I got my kicks.

I hope you do too.

Hop Against Homophobia & Transphobia

 http://hopagainsthomophobia.blogspot.com/
 
 
Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
 
I have two daughters–one is 14 and the other 11. They have their quirks. The older one can be incredibly lazy. Given her druthers, she’d spend all day in her bedroom, reading fanfic and texting with her friends. The younger one is a melodrama queen who can turn being forced to bathe and brush her teeth into a three-hour tragic opera. She’s also a picky eater who hates trying new foods. But they’re both bright and funny and creative. They adore reading and traveling, and they’re amazingly accepting of others. I love them.
 
What if one of them comes to me one of these days and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m gay [or bi or trans].” It wouldn’t change what an amazing person she is. It wouldn’t make her less lazy (or less melodramatic) or less smart or funny. It wouldn’t change the fact that the older one can spell better than I can (and I’m a university professor), or that the younger one can draw wonderfully detailed dragons (and I can barely do stick figures). Of course I wouldn’t love her one bit less.
 
How can any parent reject a child because the child is LGBTQ? I will never understand this. And yet some studies claim that half of all LGBTQ kids are rejected by their families. Many of these kids end up homeless. These kids are also more likely to attempt suicide, to abuse drugs, or to engage in risky sex.
 
I hope things are getting better. I hope we reach a point soon when no kid hesitates to reveal their sexual or gender orientation to their parents. Where, when parents find out their kids are LGBTQ, they can say the same kind of thing I’d say to mine: “I’m glad you shared that with me. I love you very much. You’re wonderful. I want you to have a happy life, full of love. Now go clean your room.”
 
 
For a chance to win an e-copy of my latest novel, Motel. Pool. plus a $10 donation to the LGBTQ organization of your choice, comment here. Make sure to include your email so I can contact you if you win. If 20 or more people comment, I’ll give away two books and donations. I’ll choose a winner at noon Pacific time on May 25.