GRNW 2016

GRNW 2016 Author photo

GRNW 2016 Author photo

The Gay Romance Northwest Conference was a little shorter this year and it took me a lot longer to get there, but I had a spectacular time and I can't wait for next year. I really love how inclusive and sex-positive this event is. I came away seriously inspired.

My journey had a bit of a rocky start when my flight out of Chicago was cancelled and I had to drive four hours to catch a plane out of Minneapolis. I arrived in Seattle at 2 in the morning. Fortunately, my incredibly patient friend stayed awake and picked me up. Even better yet, we got to sleep in the next morning. For the next few days I managed to ignore that my rerouting meant I'd need to be back at the airport for a 5 am flight on Monday. Ah, the joys of travel.

GRNW kicked off on Friday night with a suite of readings, first TransFics and then Love Bites. I was blown away by the readings, which were universally really good. I was thrilled that I got to join such a talented group and excited to read from Perfection, my short story which just came out in the One Pulse charity anthology from Dreamspinner (proceeds to help central Florida LGBT communities recover from the Pulse tragedy). Since the main character in Perfection is a bi guy, it was also a great plug for our Bi Erasure No More panel the next day.

On Saturday the great group of keynote speakers kicked off the conference by discussing their queer romance dreams. That was followed by some wonderful panels. I would have liked to be everywhere at once, but since that wasn't possible, I settled for grilling other people on the things I missed. I ended up with some tips on crafting a series, a great Trans fiction reading list and some spicy nuggets about writing sex (from the wonderfully named Queer swords and Odd Flowers panel).  

I had a blast at our bi panel. If you're interested, a recording of the panel is up on YouTube. Check us out.

The panel - from left to right: Morticia Knight, Amanda Jean, Charley descoteaux, me, e.j. russell and CJane Elliot

The panel - from left to right: Morticia Knight, Amanda Jean, Charley descoteaux, me, e.j. russell and CJane Elliot

Things got racy with the readings at the after party. I hope they do it again next year so I can come prepared to get down and dirty, too. The whole thing was great fun.

Next year GRNW gets a new name, one more appropriate to the all-letter inclusiveness of the event. And it'll be in November. Fourteen months is a long wait, but it'll definitely be worth it. If you're in the Pacific Northwest come next November, be sure to stop by and say hi.

I also promised several people that my First Friday Flash Newsletter would start in October. So make sure you're signed up to get a bit of flash fiction from me every month. The sign up form is just below, as well as up there on the left of this page and on my FB author page. I'm excited to finally get this going!

Click here to sign up for Dev's First Friday Flash Fiction Newsletter!

There's no place like home

It's GRNW weekend and I'm loving being back here in Seattle. Although I live in the Midwest now, this feels like coming home. I spent my formative years in Idaho but I moved to Seattle right after college. Over the next decade or so I moved away, came back, moved away again and then returned. I've now lived away from Seattle for longer than I lived here, but the truth is that I never intended to be gone this long.

This is where I had my first real job. And my second. And my third - okay, I've never been a model of employment stability. Same with relationships, but that's another story. I wrote my first novel here, the really horrible one that'll never see the light of day. While I was here I had short stories and poems published in national magazines and I did movie and theater reviews for Seattle Gay News for a bit. It was a fertile place for me to grow into myself.

Come find me at GRNW, at the Seattle Library all afternoon on Saturday 9/24/16. I'll be the nostalgic looking one in the corner holding a cup of coffee and dreaming about rainy days.

Photo by Nitish Meena

Photo by Nitish Meena

What's up with Dev

I thought I'd talk a little about what I'm working on now because even though if everything goes perfectly it'll be maybe a year before it sees the light of day, I'm pretty excited about this new direction and I just can't keep my mouth shut.

For years, even though I write contemporary romance, I've been a closet mystery reader. I've always wanted to dip my toe into the mystery/romantic suspense world, but it's daunting.

I'm finally ready to give it a shot. I've just finished a draft of the first in a series of mysteries set in Tanzania. There are lots of tricky things for me to navigate - from just how the hell do you write one of these things, to the worry that as much as I intend to be culturally sensitive, in setting my stories half a world away, I'm bound to get a bunch of stuff wrong. But I really like my guys and the setting couldn't be more gorgeous and exotic. I'll be sending it off to a publisher soon. We'll see how it goes. If you never hear about this again, well, I'm still happy writing contemporary. In fact, my next project is a new contemporary romance novella series - but talking about that can wait.

In the meantime, here's a photo that inspired one of the scenes in my story. Isn't she gorgeous?

Excerpt Bread, Salt and Wine

The final story in the Tarnished Souls series, this was originally published by Loose Id in 2013. On 9/13  I'm re-releasing it with a shiny new, gorgeous cover by Jordan Castillo Price. It's available for pre-order at Amazon now.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

The band was too loud, the bride looked like a skeleton, and I had a raging headache. What a way to spend Friday night. I kept trying to remember why working for a prestigious LA restaurant had seemed like a better deal than my comfortable line job at a respectable place in New York. Especially since this particular gig had required supervising the creation of hundreds of puffy cheese minisoufflés, artichoke and bacon rolls, and duck liver wraps, all of which had to be carted from the L’Ouest kitchens to this golf-course-sized Beverley Hills backyard, where a chubby record company executive was marrying Madam Skeletor in lavish style.


It wasn’t the menu I would have suggested for this fat-conscious crowd, but until I could convince my boss to offer less pretentious and difficult-to-serve food, I’d be stuck with whatever he arranged. And unpretentious wasn’t of particular value to Stephan—that’s pronounced “Stefaaan”—Becker.


Any sane chef would design a separate menu for catering, featuring finger food, fresh fruits, and meals that could be plated with grace. I looked at the tiny bites of rich food starting to congeal in the warming trays and considered whether it was time to bring a new batch from the van.


A silver platter appeared at my left elbow, and a voice suggested, “I can start offering those to the guests so you can freshen up this station.”


I turned, and there he was. A few inches shorter than me, with spiky blond hair and a big smile, he wore the standard waiter’s uniform of black pants and a black button-down shirt. He managed to look like he’d just stepped off the runway during New York’s fashion week.
He held out the tray. “You’re Mr. Zajac, the new catering chef, right? I’m Kenny Marks, waiter extraordinaire.” He had an exuberant lilt to his voice. “And I’d love to help you get rid of that food.”


I could use a friend on staff. “Call me George. You seem to know your way around. Have you worked for L’Ouest long?”


He held the platter while I arranged the food. “I was with the company for the first event, a horrid little birthday party.” He shuddered dramatically. “The wife had decorated the whole house in black for the poor man’s fortieth. It was brutal.”


“This is my first job catering.” I nodded toward the crowd. “Any advice you have for me would be appreciated.”


Kenny looked out at the gathering. “You see that guy in the maroon bow tie? He’s the groom’s financial manager. Make sure he’s happy. That’s where your check and your tip are coming from. And over there’s the bride’s mother. Rumor is that back home in Dallas she hosts soirees on a regular basis. She and the daughter are supposed to be close. You might give the mama some personal attention—people like to meet the chef, makes them feel special. The new couple is bound to entertain, and I doubt our blushing bride cooks. She’ll ask mummy for advice on catering. Tips are always bigger from repeat customers.”


I stared at him. “How do you know all this?”


He hefted the now full platter to his shoulder. “I keep my eyes and ears open. Here comes Libby Spencer. She’s the most sought-after wedding planner in the city. Be very, very nice to her.”


With that he strolled off, walking with shoulders back and a slight sway to his hips, his pants pleasingly tight across a very nice ass. What would it be like to feel that comfortable with one’s sexuality? The question made me break into a sweat.

What do you do between projects?

Some people seem to be able to move seamlessly from one project to the next. While I can certainly do that if the projects in question are straightforward and short term, like doing the dishes or ordering swag (which I just did for GRNW later this month!). But I definitely need to take time between stories.

Right now the betas have my very first ever murder mystery (okay, okay, romantic suspense, because you KNOW there's a love story in there). And soon I'm hoping to start drafting the first in a new contemporary romance novella series. But in the meantime, I'm puttering around getting other things done. I managed to put the rerelease of Bread, Salt and Wine up on Amazon for pre-order (it comes out 9/13) and I've the bones of Nobody's Home are in place for the rerelease later this fall. Now I'm facing the most daunting chore of all - cleaning the office. I don't know how it gets so out of control, but it's outrageous. See?

 

Wish me luck. What do you do in the inbetween times?

And if you'll be in the Seattle area on September 24th, I hope to see you at GRNW!

Here I go...

A Shiny New Cover for Bread, Salt and Wine

I'm excited to announce the re-release of Bread, Salt and Wine on Sept 13th from Love is a Light Press. This is the final story in my Tarnished Souls Jewish Holiday Series. It came out from Loose Id in 2013. It's one of my very favorites, so I'm pleased it will be available again. It's available from Amazon now for pre-order.

And I'm thrilled to show you the new cover, by the amazingly talented Jordan Castillo Price. Isn't it gorgeous?

 

Some wounds never heal. George Zajac grew up in a religious family with a father who beat “the swish” out of him. At thirty-eight he's a troubled man. Escaping his miserable life as a banker in New York, he moves across the country to start again in Los Angeles as the catering chef for a prestigious French Restaurant. Kenny Marks, a writer who’s currently waiting tables, is everything George cannot be—flamboyant, proud and sexually confident. Enthralled by Kenny, and against his own better judgment, George agrees to a date. Sparks fly. The sex is amazing. But even after the two get close, George is crippled by humiliating sexual hang-ups. Still haunted by his childhood, he lingers in the closet and can’t commit to a relationship with Kenny. Love is the great healer, but is it enough? George’s emotional scars could drive Kenny away, and with him, George’s last chance at happiness.

Bread, Salt and Wine

Next month I'll be rereleasing Bread, Salt and Wine, the final story in my Tarnished Souls series. The point of view character is a chef and the story is structured around a series of catering events.

I thought you might enjoy this except from the first one.

"The band was too loud, the bride looked like a skeleton, and I had a raging headache. What a way to spend Friday night. I kept trying to remember why working for a prestigious LA restaurant had seemed like a better deal than my comfortable line job at a respectable place in New York. Especially since this particular gig had required supervising the creation of hundreds of puffy cheese minisoufflés, artichoke and bacon rolls, and duck liver wraps, all of which had to be carted from the L’Ouest kitchens to this golf-course-sized Beverley Hills backyard, where a chubby record company executive was marrying Madam Skeletor in lavish style.


It wasn’t the menu I would have suggested for this fat-conscious crowd, but until I could convince my boss to offer less pretentious and difficult-to-serve food, I’d be stuck with whatever he arranged. And unpretentious wasn’t of particular value to Stephan—that’s pronounced “Stefaaan”—Becker.


Any sane chef would design a separate menu for catering, featuring finger food, fresh fruits, and meals that could be plated with grace. I looked at the tiny bites of rich food starting to congeal in the warming trays and considered whether it was time to bring a new batch from the van.


A silver platter appeared at my left elbow, and a voice suggested, “I can start offering those to the guests so you can freshen up this station.”


I turned, and there he was. A few inches shorter than me, with spiky blond hair and a big smile, he wore the standard waiter’s uniform of black pants and a black button-down shirt. He managed to look like he’d just stepped off the runway during New York’s fashion week.
He held out the tray. “You’re Mr. Zajac, the new catering chef, right? I’m Kenny Marks, waiter extraordinaire.” He had an exuberant lilt to his voice. “And I’d love to help you get rid of that food.”


I could use a friend on staff. “Call me George. You seem to know your way around. Have you worked for L’Ouest long?”


He held the platter while I arranged the food. “I was with the company for the first event, a horrid little birthday party.” He shuddered dramatically. “The wife had decorated the whole house in black for the poor man’s fortieth. It was brutal.”


“This is my first job catering.” I nodded toward the crowd. “Any advice you have for me would be appreciated.”


Kenny looked out at the gathering. “You see that guy in the maroon bow tie? He’s the groom’s financial manager. Make sure he’s happy. That’s where your check and your tip are coming from. And over there’s the bride’s mother. Rumor is that back home in Dallas she hosts soirees on a regular basis. She and the daughter are supposed to be close. You might give the mama some personal attention—people like to meet the chef, makes them feel special. The new couple is bound to entertain, and I doubt our blushing bride cooks. She’ll ask mummy for advice on catering. Tips are always bigger from repeat customers.”


I stared at him. “How do you know all this?”


He hefted the now full platter to his shoulder. “I keep my eyes and ears open. Here comes Libby Spencer. She’s the most sought-after wedding planner in the city. Be very, very nice to her.”


With that he strolled off, walking with shoulders back and a slight sway to his hips, his pants pleasingly tight across a very nice ass. What would it be like to feel that comfortable with one’s sexuality? The question made me break into a sweat."

 

More Painting in the Rain (watch for the cover reveal)

The official re-release date for Painting in the Rain is July 12, 2016. It has a brand new gorgeous cover designed by the amazing Jordan Castillo Price. The cover deserves it's own post. Look for that here this coming Friday. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy another picture from the Oregon Coast and a bit from Gabe's perspective in Chapter Two.

This was one of those other times. Between worry about his son and disturbing thoughts about his son’s supervisor, concentration was hard to find. The thought that Trevor might get some girl pregnant made him break into a cold sweat. Like father like son. The boy might not take his advice—but maybe he’d accept a handful of condoms.


Condoms Gabe didn’t have at the moment. He’d used the last one in a crappy hotel room in Portland with a guy who smelled like whiskey and shouted when he came—a particularly mortifying trait when that had someone in the next room banging on the wall and yelling for them to shut the fuck up. That experience hadn’t exactly sent Gabe running to the drugstore to stock up on condoms.


Gabe switched a yellow feather for a red one and considered the resulting pattern. He played around with a few more changes, feeling uncharacteristically indecisive. What was he doing thinking about condoms when he should be working? Christ, that kid had been handsome. Good bone structure, his mom would say. And those eyes—lapis blue. The paper with his number seemed to throb in Gabe’s left pocket while his phone pulsed in the right. And Trevor’s words echoed around the garage—I’ll kill you. I swear I will.


Gabe turned the knob to send gas to his welding torch with a hiss. He flipped down his visor and lit the flame. He’d lay proper beads later but for tonight he wanted to tack the feathers to the wing with single dots of metal, like thumbtacks at the edge of each piece, strong enough so he could hold the wing up next to its twin and see how they fit together, but flimsy too, so he could still change things if he didn’t like the way it turned out.


Gabe snorted. Too bad that life wasn’t like that. As it was, when things changed, the whole thing could come apart and wouldn’t go back together no matter how much heat and flux and passion he poured into it.


He turned off the torch, hung up his visor, and left the piece to cool. He stood in the garage doorway and rolled his shoulders to release the tension. Trevor’s light was still on. Above the distant sound of waves, Gabe could hear the murmur of the TV. He flipped off the garage lights and rolled down the door.


He strolled to the street and stared out at the ocean, pale gray in the moonlight. A familiar empty ache opened in his chest. He’d be thirty-five in August and it felt like he’d hit the pause button on his life.


Gabe reached into his left pocket and into his right. Before he could think about it too much, he read Mike’s number by the light of his phone, punched it in and, taking a deep breath, pushed send.


He crossed the street and stood on the cliff, watching the waves crash white against the rocks below as the phone rang once, twice, three times. Was it too late to call? Maybe Mike had gone to bed and wouldn’t welcome a crazy artist waking him up. Gabe was about to cancel the call when a voice said, “Hello.”


“Um, hi. This is Gabe Thompson, Trevor’s dad?” Right, because that’s always seductive—my teenage son’s under your care.


But the “Hey” that came back at him was warm and maybe happy. Gabe’s shoulders relaxed.
“Hi. Is this too late to call?”


“No, it’s fine. We were baking cookies.”


We. “Oh.”


“My roommate Jessica and I,” Mike said, his words tumbling out quickly, like he was rushing to clarify. “She got a call from her boyfriend tonight. He’s in Peru for the summer. It made her lonely and I was trying to cheer her up.”


“That’s nice of you. What kind of cookies?”


“Chocolate chocolate chip. What else?”


Silence. Gabe stared out at the ocean, summoning courage. Why was this, the step that might take them past casual acquaintanceship and closer to naked, why was it always so difficult?


“I’m glad you called.” Mike’s voice dropped. Gabe could almost see him turning away from the phantom roommate, maybe pacing out of the kitchen. “I wasn’t sure you would.”


Gabe exhaled. “I wasn’t sure I would either and I know I shouldn’t, but I thought there might have been something…. Today, I mean.” He stumbled into silence and kicked at the gravel, feeling inarticulate and stupid. Words weren’t his thing.


“Me too.” Mike said softly.


Gabe closed his eyes. He was really going to do this. “I was wondering if you wanted to get together some time.”


“I’d like that.” God he sounded young. And eager.


He cleared his throat. “How about Friday night? Trevor’s at his mom’s this weekend. Come to dinner?”


“What can I bring?”


Your body. Your beauty. A box of condoms. “Save me one of those cookies.”

A scene from Painting in the Rain

I've spent the day formatting my newly edited version of Painting in the Rain, an Amber Allure title which I hope to rerelease next month. It's set on the glorious Oregon Coast (which is where I took this picture). I thought you might enjoy this scene.

Mike held open the garden gate so Trevor could trudge through. They were halfway up the walk when the front door opened and a pirate stepped out. Okay, not a real pirate—a hot guy with dark untamed hair, big, gorgeous brown eyes, weathered skin and an earring.


He stared at Trevor. “Why are you home early? You’re not hurt, are you?”


Holy shit, this was Trevor’s dad? “Hello.” It came out in the wrong octave. Mike cleared his throat and started again. “Mr. Thompson? I’m Mike Malone, Trevor’s supervisor.”


His focus shifted to Mike. Was it Mike’s imagination or did that gaze linger a little longer than necessary? Get a grip on yourself, Malone. This is your charge’s dad.


The pirate looked back at Trevor. “What have you done now?” His tone was filled with resignation.


“Nothing.” Trevor’s voice rose. He gestured toward Mike with his thumb. “Can I help it that Mr. Puritan here has a thing against me kissing girls?”


Mike frowned. “It was a little more than kissing, wasn’t it, Trevor? And besides, that’s not appropriate behavior for the work day.”


Trevor’s father sighed and opened the door wider. “You’d better come in, Mr. Malone.”
“Please, call me Mike.” Mike held out his hand.


“Gabe.” God he loved a firm handshake. Mike looked into Gabe’s eyes. Oh please, if there’s a God in heaven, let Trevor’s use of “faggot” be a description rather than a random insult.


“Fuck, Dad, do you have to come on to every guy you meet?”


Their hands flew apart like they were on fire. Trevor stormed past his father and into the house. Within moments a heavy rap beat split the air.


“Turn it down,” Gabe yelled. The decibels decreased enough so Mike could hear him when he said, “You’ll have to excuse my son. His mother and I divorced two years ago and he hasn’t taken it well.”


Mike followed Gabe into a living room alive with art. “Wow, this is amazing. Is this all your work?”
Gabe glanced around as if seeing it for the first time. “Some is mine. The rest was given to me by friends. Or traded for. Would you like a cup of coffee? It’s fresh.”


“Sure.” Mike followed him into a sunny yellow kitchen. Gabe closed the door and the noise level dropped. He gestured for Mike to sit down.


Strange, brightly colored sea creatures were painted on the kitchen table and chairs. Mike sat on an orange and yellow octopus.


Gabe poured two cups and passed one to Mike. “Do you take anything in it?”


Mike shook his head. “Black. Thanks.”


Gabe sat across from him and rested his cup on the table. “Tell me why you’re here.”


A thousand inappropriate responses flooded Mike’s mind, but he pulled himself together. “I’m worried about Trevor. Actually, to tell the truth I’m more worried about the young women he’s with.”


“Young women plural?”


“Four in as many weeks.” Mike sipped the coffee. Rich and strong. He wondered what Gabe’s skin would taste like. Shit. He had to stop thinking like that. He concentrated on Trevor, which was enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. “He’s a heartbreaker. But what I’m most worried about is that he’ll get one of these girls pregnant or they’ll share a disease.”


Gabe’s eyebrows rose. “He’s going that far?”


“I don’t know. But each time I catch him the girl has on fewer clothes.”


Gabe’s shoulders slumped.


Mike continued quickly, “Of course, this is a program for troubled kids. I doubt there’s a virgin in the bunch. But all that means is that the girls don’t think they have anything to lose by getting pregnant. I’m hoping you can talk to him about the dangers of not using protection.”


Gabe snorted. “My son is unlikely to take advice about sexuality from me.”


“You don’t get along?”


He shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m the reason Trevor’s becoming a womanizer. He’s been trying to prove his manhood ever since I”—he paused and met Mike’s gaze—“ever since I came out.”


The fucking Hallelujah Chorus went off in Mike’s head. He must have smiled because Gabe’s expression changed and suddenly neither of them were thinking about his son.

 

Nobody's Home

I'll be rereleasing an author version of Nobody's Home later this month. It's a book about love and redemption and starting again (and there are dogs!). I thought you might enjoy reading chapter one. 

 

 

Nick stared at the dazzling white canvas, imagining his bank account like a faucet with a slow leak. He saw his savings as a stack of dollar bills slowly dissolving and dripping away. If he was careful, his money would last until October and the show. If there was a show. Because so far all he had was a stack of primed canvases. The “stellar young talent” needed a new idea. The big blank square in front of him glared back accusingly, as if daring Nick to fail this time. His first show had been a phenomenal success and now the sense of everyone else’s expectations was crippling. Or at least that’s what he kept telling himself, since the other possibility was that his creative well had already run dry. Like a fucking desert.

He swirled raw sienna and titanium white together on his pallet and held up the brush. No. He wiped the brush clean with a turpentine soaked rag and started again. Burnt umber and gray, with a dab of ochre. He cleaned the brush again. This was stupid. All he needed was to outline an image. The color didn’t matter at this stage. Van Dyke brown, straight from the tube.

The blank whiteness stared at him like an accusation. Nothing was coming. He put away his paints and brushes, turned off the fan, shut the window and wiped away the snow that had accumulated on the floor and the inside of the window frame. Painting and sleeping in a 512 square foot studio was cheaper than doing each in a separate space, but it also required that he choose between ventilation and temperature control. In January that meant he painted in a coat and the kind of fingerless gloves he imagined Van Gogh had worn. Which would be a romantic image if it weren’t so damned cold.

Maybe a walk would inspire him. He hadn’t eaten all day and that cheap Pakistani place on 9th sounded good. He was halfway down the stairs when his phone rang. Who called anymore when it was easier to text? He fumbled the phone out of his pocket and answered.

“Nicholas Alsteen?” A man. He couldn’t place the voice. A buyer? Nick hoped so. Selling one of his few remaining finished pieces might take the edge off that damned financial drip.

“Yes.” The familiar stairwell mix of mold and stale cooking enveloped Nick as he waited for the man to go on.

There was a pause and then, “I’m calling about your father.”

“My father?” Nick stopped, one foot halfway to the next step. “There must be some mistake.”

“You’re Nicholas Alsteen, the artist, correct? Your father was Robert Alsteen, he went by—”

“Buddy.” Nick finished. “But whatever you want, I can’t help you. I haven’t seen him in years.”

“He’s dead, son.” Despite the harshness of the words, the voice sounded kind.

Nick sank onto the step.

“My name’s Dan Osborne of the Lacland Sheriff’s Department,” the voice continued. “I’m sorry to spring it on you like this but I’m afraid you’re going to have to come out here. You’re his closest relative. He didn’t leave a will so you’ll need to figure out what to do with his stuff. It isn’t much, the house, a truck. And there’s the…you’ll need to make arrangements for his remains.”

“I think there’s more family somewhere, but he cut himself off.” Nick stared at the dirty stairwell wall, picturing his father’s angry face.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re his legal next of kin.” When Nick didn’t say anything, the sheriff continued, “If you want I can put you in touch with folks who could do it all for you but given everything, it would probably cost more than the estate is worth. And besides, it’s the right thing to do, son. I know Buddy wasn’t easy, but he was your father.”

Some father. But Nick wasn’t exactly in a position to hire out his dirty work. “Okay.”

“When can you come?” Osborne sounded relieved.

Nick looked at his watch, as if that would tell him anything. His calendar was as simple as it could be—big scary opening in nine months, nothing until then. He mumbled something about soon and hung up. A woman was yelling a few floors down. Horns honked outside. A cold blast of air filled the stairwell as the front door opened. Nick stood and climbed back up the stairs, feeling a hundred years older than when he’d started down.

Life stops for death. Nick booked an expensive flight—whatever happened to bereavement rates? He texted Connie at the gallery so she’d know he hadn’t bolted town. He glanced through his phone contact list and decided there wasn’t anyone else who’d really care. He’d always told himself he had to stay detached to have time for his art. But maybe he was more like his father than he wanted to admit. Nick tried to wrap his brain around the thought that the old man was dead. Violent? Yes. Unpredictable? Yes. Crazy? Absolutely. Dead? That was hard to imagine.

When Nick had left with his mother—it must have been almost twenty years ago—he’d vowed never to see the man again. And yet, his father had continued to live somewhere in Nick’s subconscious like a room where the light was always on.

Off.

What else is there to talk about?

I'm sitting here by my peaceful Northern Wisconsin lake. We had a big storm the other night and rain this morning, but right now the lake's still, the loons are calling and a muskrat just paddled by. Hard to believe that yesterday, a crazy, hate-filled guy with two guns killed so many people in an Orlando nightclub. 

I don't have anything new to say about the shooting. Reading about the victims is heartbreaking. One man's mother had a tomato and cheese sandwich waiting for him in the fridge at home while another's got a text telling her that he loved her. There was a TV producer, a man who worked at the UPS store, the bartender and the bouncer and a friend of J.K. Rowlings. And so many more. Over a hundred people shot, half of those were killed. It's horrible to imagine what it must have been like inside the club with the crazy hate guy firing and a security guard and police shooting back. Like being in a war.

Right now if I type "Orlando shooting" into the Google search bar, I'm offered some reasonable suggestions, like "Orlando shooting timeline" but I'm also offered the hate filled endings of "hoax" and "false flag." I'm not sure what the latter is, but when I click on it I get anti-Islamic rantings. What I'm not offered as the most popular ways to complete the phrase are words that speak to what really happened, like tragedy, sorrow or murders. And yet what I feel today is sorrow over these murders, this tragedy. And rage that this could happen. And gratitude that 911 came and made it all stop and that at least 30 people didn't get shot and more than 50 of the wounded are still alive.

It all feels a long way away from my calm lake. Except armed hate lives in my neighborhood, too.  But so does love. And as Dan Savage tweeted out yesterday - in 1969, it was the police who were hurting people in bars and on Saturday night they came to the rescue. He's right. Things do get better. But that doesn't mean we're already there.

Authenticity

Photo by Dmitry Boyarin, copyright 2012

Photo by Dmitry Boyarin, copyright 2012

I'm a huge fan of Brene Brown, the vulnerability and shame researcher. If you haven't listened to her TED talk, stop right now and do that. I'll wait.

Isn't she great? I think she has some pretty profound things to say about the human condition. For example, I've heard her say that connection and a sense of belonging is why we're here. I write romance. Of course I resonate with that.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, she has a set of ten guideposts for wholehearted living (summarized here). I've been trying to consciously do at least one of these every day. In fact, I've turned her into a verb, as in, "I still need to Brene Brown today." I thought I'd start sharing some of that journey with you, starting with:

#1: Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think.

Sheesh. That's a big one. There are so many ways I get trapped by other people's opinions. For instance, just this morning I was riding my bike, trying to get some exercise by interval training. (That makes me sound much more jocky than I am. What really happened was that I read a New York Times article about cramming an exercise routine into a couple of minutes and thought I'd give it a try). Anyway, there I was riding my bike and I found myself waiting to start my little bursts of hard work until I was sure no one else could see me. Yeah, pretty silly, since I'm quite sure no one on that trail cared or even noticed.

Sometimes I need to balance a healthy avoidance of criticism (I rarely read reviews) with a recognition that what other people think actually can matter (I always pay attention to my editors). I'm hyper-tuned in to the emotional life of everyone I come in contact with. It's a sickness. On the other hand, developing empathy has absolutely helped me as a writer. There's nothing like it for character development.

So how authentic am I in my regular life? I try to be as real as I can and to allow those around me space for the same thing. Which means I try to keep my opinions to myself. Because it's easier not to care what other people think if they don't share it. Except, of course, I think you're fabulous for reading my rambling all the way to the end. Thank you. 

What does being authentic mean to you?

Deadlines

Deadlines - do you like them, hate them, find them useful?

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. Knowing something is due definitely ups my productivity. And that's a good thing. But then there's the stress. It seems like no matter how generous the deadline, I'm always feeling pressure as it nears. Of course I intend to get things done ahead of time. But then life happens.

Most of the time I make my deadlines. I've got one coming up June 15th when I've promised to submit my Lisbon novella to Dreamspinner then. It'll definitely be a stretch. And that's probably a good thing. I think.

How about you? Do deadlines motivate or overwhelm? Or both.

Me, I gotta get back to that novella now. Yikes!

Visiting Old Friends

Photo by J E Therlot, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by J E Therlot, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I have a number of re-releases coming out this year. Having a story come home is an opportunity to view earlier work with a, hopefully, more mature eye. So far I've dared to look inside the first two, Nobody's Home and Painting in the Rain, and in both cases there's room for improvement How much to do and when is a balancing act. I don't want polishing old work to get in the way of writing something new. On the other hand, I like my work to be the best it can be - a standard that changes over time.

I'll re-release Nobody's Home in early summer. This version is the same story with a few character and plot tweaks that should make it a more enjoyable read. I read a bunch of reader reviews and got some expert feedback and I think the book will be much stronger for the rewrite.  The multi-talented Jordan Castillo Price will design the new cover and I can't wait to see what she creates. 

In the meantime, I'm plugging away at some new work.  Which in a few years will turn into old work. My hope is that I'm learning as I go. Only time will tell.

I write just like I garden. Or is it the other way around?

This morning the Significant Other and I were having a discussion about our different work habits. I pointed out that sloppy could be efficient and that if you wait long enough, many problems do just disappear on their own. Yeah, he didn't buy that either.

But the whole "discussion" got me thinking about how I work and all the ways those habits are universal for me. And because it's spring, there are only two things on my mind - my WIP and gardening. I've made a list of ways they're similar:

1. Dev plans, God laughs. I plan, I really do. I write synopses and plot outlines for books and spend long winter hours mapping out my garden. Then, when it's time for the actual implementation of said plans, they go astray very quickly. Something unexpected happens in the story and everything changes. In the garden, my garden partner has taken to calling it surprise gardening because we only know what we planted where when/if it comes up.

2. Sloppy is efficient. I suspect this isn't actually true and that if I could only manage to do things right the first time it would save me a lot. Doesn't happen. I suspect it never will. So I'm sticking to my story that sloppy is best.

3. If you plant it, it will grow. Okay, that's not always true. One year I couldn't get carrots to sprout no matter what I did. But I do know that the converse is true - if you don't plant, it won't grow. Planting stories means always being on the lookout for an interesting starting point, or plot device or character. I tuck them away in my sloppy brain and eventually something sprouts.

4. Gardening and writing are both a fuck of a lot of work. And if I wait for the muse to magically appear, everything withers and dies.

5. They're worth it. Every September I'm exhausted. Every time I hit send on those final page proofs, I'm tired of the damned story. And yet, I'm proud of the work that went in and of knowing I did the best job I could. And by the time I start a new story or Spring comes back around, I'm ready and excited. Watching things grow and mature by the work of my own hands and head? That's addicting.

Periodically I hear about someone else's writing process and I think, hmmm, maybe I should try that. But in the end, I am who I am. And the work gets done. Eventually. And that's good enough. For now.

 

 

Travel writing

I love writing when I travel. I'm not talking about restaurant or hotel reviews. What I love is setting stories in interesting places. For example, I wrote a big chunk of Sacred Hearts while I was visiting friends in Mexico. So when this spring I got a chance to visit Spain and Portugal, I decided to set a novella there. I'm home now and still in the midst of the first draft, but I'm savoring the memory of sitting in the sun in a courtyard in Lisbon dreaming about my characters roaming the city and falling in love.

Place plays a big role in my stories, maybe because I've lived lots of places or because now I'm up here in Northern Wisconsin, which is beautiful but can feel isolating. The astrologer I lived near as a kid would tell you it's because I have a Taurus moon. A shrink might say I never put down proper roots. I think an unusual setting simply makes for an interesting story. 

The new book doesn't have a name yet, or an ending, but it's got some fabulous places. Here's Amsterdam, where the story begins. I'll post more photos as this story moves along the journey from pen to published. It's always an adventure.

Happy Passover

Here's what I'm doing today - getting ready for Passover. The table is set and waiting for the last minute additions of water/parsley/eggs, the soup is made, we've got homemade gefilte fish, my sweetie will be cooking Cornish game hens and I'm waiting on a last minute shipment of gluten free matzah meal so I can finally make some matzah balls that I can actually eat. Friends are bringing the rest. It should be a festive, if predictably long, evening. Hoping I have time this afternoon for a nap.

If you're in a Pesach mood, I think I have the only gay Passover holiday romance (if you know of another I'd LOVE to hear about it). Learning from Isaac is a few years old now and I definitely think of Nate and Isaac every Passover. It's not exactly a romantic holiday, but it is all about family and connection. And spring and rebirth and liberation. So happy Passover to everyone! Here's to new beginnings.

Gorgeous cover by Jordan Castillo Price