Road trip!

Cover by Fiona Jayde

Cover by Fiona Jayde

I love a good road trip. There’s nothing better than piling in the car with my sweetie, the dog and a big bag of snacks and heading out to find adventures.

My new book, Driving into the Sun, takes place on 190/94 from Chicago to Northern Idaho. It’s not exactly your standard family vacation – Dusty and Joe have a long way to go in more ways than one.

Bring on the light

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

It’s September and up here in Northern Wisconsin, that means the days will soon be getting shorter and much, much colder. It’s a good time to look toward the land that never warms up. September in Antarctica is Winfly, the short period between when the continent is locked down in darkest winter and the frantic summer work season begins. In other words, in Antarctica this month they’re getting ready for the light. It might not get warm during an Antarctic summer, but it gets very, very bright.

In honor of Winfly 2014, Love is a Light has released an author version of August Ice, my Antarctica love story. I’ve made some changes, most notably to the beginning and end of the story and the book has a gorgeous new cover by Jordan Castillo Price. You can find the new and improved August Ice on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here’s to the sun as it waxes and wanes in all of our lives.

Growing community

I’m all about community. Which is funny since I’m a bit of an introvert (not that you’d know that by meeting me). I think what I love about creating communities is that we can get so much more done together than we ever do on our own.

First home grown salad of the year.

First home grown salad of the year.

One of my favorite community activities is working in our local community garden. We started one garden five years ago. It was so popular that we expanded to a second site two years later. You’d think that in a rural place like Northern Wisconsin, there wouldn’t be a need for a community garden. People may not have much money up here, but there’s a lot of green space around. The thing is, we also have lots and lots of trees (wonderful) and deer (umm… I suppose they’re cute if they’re not camped out in your front yard eating the flowers). In the community garden people can farm a small plot inside a big fence where there’s plenty of sun and no cute little Bambis to scalp the peppers.

We also grow food for the local food pantry. I’m in charge of the tomatoes we grow for the food pantry. Last year I tried growing them in straw bales. It worked great so I’m doing the same this year. Straw bale gardening is all the rage up here and I’m definitely sold.

1TW_3019The tomatoes still have a long way to go. But it’s wonderful to be outside gardening again. Especially in community.

How about you? How does your garden grow?

 

The First Question A Passover Story (Isaac and Nathan)

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

This Passover I’m releasing a new, improved author version of Learning from Isaac, the first Tarnished Souls books, which was originally published by Loose Id in 2012. The new version is a little longer (5%) with a few plot and narration tweaks. I’m hoping it gives readers a fuller vision of both Nathan and Isaac and their sweet love story. To celebrate this re-release, I’m posting this short to let everyone know where the guys are now. The new version of Learning from Isaac (with this stunning cover by Jordan Castillo Price) is up on Amazon now. I hope you enjoy both the new version of the book and this little glimpse into their life two years later.

 

The First Question

 

Plain, egg, onion, whole wheat, poppy seed or spelt? My stomach twisted in knots as I stared at the matzo display. On some level I knew that no one would really care, but hosting our first real Seder felt like a big-deal, grown-up, serious thing to do and I wanted it to be perfect. For a lot of reasons.

I was the kid who never paid attention while the adults droned through the ritual. One year they caught me passing notes back and forth with my cousin, playing hangman instead of learning about Moses and the red sea and plagues. But these days, Passover meant something different for me. Looked at one way, Seder at Nathan’s mother’s house had been our first date.  Which was the way I liked to remember it. That other first date? Some things are best forgotten.

And now here I was, standing in a grocery store in front of a Passover display that was nestled between tortillas, canned chilies, beans, and rice noodles and soy sauce, with a shopping list and a case of nerves. Nathan was back home cleaning out the spare room for his mom and her boyfriend who would be flying in from Chicago in the morning. l grabbed three different boxes—variety’s good, right?—and started shoveling the rest of the supplies into the cart, gefelte fish, macaroons and sweet wine. The horseradish tripped me up again—regular or pink with beet juice? Both. I wasn’t taking chances. I’d been planning this night for a long time.

The cart bulged with regular and ritual food. I could picture Nathan’s face when I dumped bag after bag of food on the counter. He’d stare at me wide-eyed in that sexy way he had, then shake his head and smile. And I’d go all gooey inside. Maybe we wouldn’t make it to the end of putting away the groceries before we were going at it on the kitchen floor. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The bill was three times what we usually spent on food. And it was okay. We could afford it. Wasn’t that amazing.

I stepped out into the April heat and inhaled the gas-fume-laden air. I loved California, the heat, the ocean, my job, loved the word engineer in my title, and mostly I loved the freedom of walking down the street without meeting anyone who’d known me before. I hadn’t expected to like respectability. But I did. I loved it—loved our life, our overpriced condo and our grown-up furniture. Our friends had real jobs and even if I was almost always the youngest at any social gathering, it was okay because I was just another guy, half of a couple, a matched set.

I drove into the snarl of traffic. Faces in the cars beside me looked mad or anxious or resigned, and maybe I would have too, if I hadn’t spent long winters in Chicago selling my soul for tuition money and another long winter in Madison only seeing Nathan on weekends. Three months before, I’d graduated early, Nathan quit his job and we moved to sunny California and now we car pooled to work for the same environmental consulting company. It was like stepping into the light. I was still blinking from the contrast.

In the empty kitchen, steam roiled from a pot of water boiling on the stove. A carton of eggs sat next to it. The balcony door was open and there stood Nathan, beating the guest room rug, his hair a dark halo in the sunlight and a deep furrow between his eyebrows as he squinted against the dust. I watched him. Even after two years, having Nathan in my life felt like a miracle. My Nate. The professor—smart, sexy and all mine.

He glanced up and smiled. I loved the way he looked at me with those dark, kind eyes. Like I was special. Like I was worthy. Like he thought I was a prize, too.

The water. Hard boiled eggs for tomorrow. I dropped in a dozen eggs, turned off the burner and walked into the living room. Nathan came in from the balcony, meeting me halfway for a hug and kiss too long and deep for the hour I’d been away.

“I bought too much matzo,” I told him when we pulled apart.

“Egg?”

“Among other things.”

“Mom loves you. There’s nothing to worry about.” He brushed hair out of my face. It was getting too long, the curls too wild, but there didn’t ever seem time to get it cut. Besides, he liked it. He kissed me again, this time sweet and slow.

When the kiss broke, I looked into his deep brown eyes. It was right there on the tip of my tongue. Had been for months. “Nate…”

The timer beeped.

“Is that the eggs?” He pulled away and strode toward the kitchen. “We should peel them now. Getting the shells off is tricky once the albumen has cooled.”

God I loved him.

I trailed him to the kitchen. He dumped the hot water and ran cold into the pan. I leaned against the counter, chewing on my unspoken words.

He handed me an egg to peel. It was warm.  “Nate?”

“Hmm?” He frowned down at the egg in his hand as some of the white chipped off with the shell.

It was like diving into the ocean from a high rock. You had to just jump.

“What is it?” Nathan stopped peeling and looked at me, his fingers still in the icy water.

I took a deep breath and leapt. “I think we should get married.”

He dropped his egg and stared at me.

I rushed on before he could say no. “It’s legal here and we already have a joint checking account and, um, it would be good for our taxes.” I could hear the whine creeping into my voice and shut up.

Nathan didn’t say anything. He pulled his hands out of the water, reached for a dish towel and dried them. He folded and set the towel on the counter and looked at me, that furrow between his eyes back again.

“You think we should get married for the taxes?”

“No.” I leaned forward, not touching him but wanting to. “No. I want to marry you because you’re it for me. The one man I can see myself loving forever. You’re my heart. My home. I just thought you’d find the taxes argument more convincing.”

His eyes went wide. He shook his head and smiled. “I’m a lot older than you. When I’m sixty-five you’ll be—”

“—Twenty years older than I am now and it still won’t matter. We get to change our names when we get married, but not our ages.” I put my right hand over his heart and took his hand with my left. “I thought about making a big proposal at dinner tomorrow night, down on one knee and everything, but I decided you wouldn’t like that. So now, over a pot of unpeeled hard-boiled eggs, I’m asking you, Nathan Kohn, if you’ll make an honest man out of me.”

“You’ve always been that.” He caressed my jaw, his eyes searching mine. “Are you serious?”

I nodded.

His face split into a wide smile that went all the way up into his eyes. He wrapped his arms around me and drew me into a long, deep, whole-body kiss.

I guessed that was a yes.

A new version of Learning from Isaac out for Passover this year

Look for it on Amazon somewhere around 4/15. I’m calling this an author’s version, or maybe “take 2″, and I’m hoping that in the new Learning from Isaac readers will fall in love with Nathan in the same way I did. There’s also a spectacular new cover from Jordan Castillo Price.

To celebrate – I’m working on a flash piece to let everyone check in on how Nathan and Isaac are doing two years later. More later – in the meantime happy spring!

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

Cover by Jordan Castillo Price

Happy Purim!

Purim is a crazy holiday, a religious celebration based on a bedroom farce (really, read the Book of Ester yourself if you don’t believe me) during which you are COMMANDED to get drunk. Although most people treat it as a kid’s thing (a Jewish Halloween) and let it go at that, if we’re doing it right, we get dressed up, shake rattles, put on terrible skits and drink until we can’t tell the difference between right and wrong – sort of a slapstick take on annihilation.

Of course my Purim story (Bread, Salt and Wine) dwells more on the threats than the fun, but that’s just me. For most people, Purim is about costumes and parties and eating your enemy’s hat (hamentashen – check it out). And drool over these beauties by slqckqc at Flickr Creative Commons – yum.

See the original photo on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/6961659235/in/photolist-bBbjKv-bBbhgg-9rVvqv-dUbg9c-dUbfYT-dUgSMU-dUgSKL-dUbgwZ-dUgSA5-dUgSxw-dUbgb8-dUbgB4-dUbg1z-dUbfWK-7JCkTd-9rHKUK-9rVvnP-9rYsQU-9rVuK4-9rYsxU-9rVuE2-9rYsNC-9rYsn9-9rYsB1-9rYsHG-9rYsDm-9rVuND-9rVuG8-9rYsFY-dXotAd-bBvHhp-bBvHdx-bBvHgM-boANcN-bBvHoe-bBvHek-boANo1-boANiu-bBvHhV-9KJMqq-bBvHd8-bBvHiD-boAN7W-bBvHfz-dXcLas-7Gv4wv-7Gv4vn-dYmaMm-9rrcCQ-9smKE4-aKes3V/lightbox/

 

Seth’s Valentine

Moving in Rhythm from Carina - March 2012

Moving in Rhythm (Carina 2012)

It’s been a couple of years and I thought you might be interested in what’s up for Mark and Seth from Moving in Rhythm.

The original story is available on CarinaAmazon and Barnes and Noble

Seth’s Valentine

“And five, six, seven, eight.” Seth snapped his fingers and watched his first grade dance class fly into their unique chaos. He glanced at the ornate wall clock, a studio-warming gift from his folks. It needed dusting. Ten more minutes. Just enough time to practice the sunflower routine for the spring recital.

He clapped his hands and the kids lined up in a vaguely snaking line, Mackenzie the reluctant tail. She was forty pounds heavier than the other kids and the butt of all their jokes, no wonder she hated dance class. Seth had seen the same thing with his oldest sister, who’d battled weight all her life. She was convinced she would have found her own way to health if their parents hadn’t shoved her into every humiliating group physical activity they could find. Seth had no idea if she was right, but shame didn’t help anyone. He’d offered to give Mackenzie private lessons at the same price, but her parents thought she needed a social life. Right. Some social life.

As he passed out the props, his knee started to ache. Not compared to what he’d made himself endure in the old days, but enough to make him glad the day was almost over. His post-accident life of spring and fall recitals, choreographing small town musicals and teaching exercise classes on the side was a long way from the professional dance life he’d planned. He’d spent years sweating and straining and gritting his teeth against the pain, only to find himself sidelined from the dream. And happy. Amazing.

Ten other girls, two boys and round little Mackenzie tiptoed in a circle, waving their plastic sunflowers. Flowers. He should stop on the way home and pick up some. They hadn’t talked about Valentine’s Day. Did Mark have something planned? Sometimes it was hard to tell what was going on inside that gorgeous head of his.

Half-way round the circle, Mackenzie tripped and went down on one knee. The boy behind slammed into her and stumbled. Kids laughed, a girl yelled. Mackenzie’s bottom lip quivered. Her eyes on the floor, she seemed to shrink into herself. It was heartbreaking. Seth stepped in, broke up the incipient fight and dismissed class. The dance floor thundered with the pounding of little feet as everyone rushed toward the anteroom and their parents. He squatted next to Mackenzie, still huddled on the floor where she’d fallen.

“You okay?”

She looked up and nodded. He pulled a tissue from the pocket of his sweatpants and handed it to her. She blew her nose and solemnly passed it back to him. He tried not to wince.

“It gets better.” He patted her shoulder, hoping he was right.

Mackenzie didn’t meet his gaze, climbed to her feet and headed for the front door and her escape.

Seth’s knee complained again as he stood. He carried her soggy tissue over to the trash can. Maybe part of being human was the instinct to rip open anyone who was different. It wasn’t the best part. He gathered up the sunflowers they’d left strewn across the floor.

The parents and children were gone by the time Seth had cleaned up, turned off the lights and shrugged into his coat. February was a cold month in Lacland. Come April they’d be staying to chat, maybe clustering on the lawn in front of the dance studio. But with the snow deep and the wind sharp, they just wanted to scoop up the kid and run.

Seth inhaled the cold air. He felt a flutter of excitement. Valentine’s Day. He still couldn’t believe Mark had agreed to move in with him. Two months, and Seth was still pinching himself every morning he woke up to find Mark’s clothing still hanging next to his in the closet. Even the dogs were happy. Of course, they’d had a couple of years to get used to each other.

As he strode across the parking lot, he pulled up the collar of his coat against the wind. Mark’s stuff in the closet, his weights in the spare room, his dog sleeping on the couch—all that added up to love, right? Mark might not have said it, but that was just Mark. He wasn’t ever going to be a talker. That’s just the way it was. Everyone was born their unique biochemical self. Especially Mark.

Seth rubbed his hands together and blew on his fingers while he waited for the old car to warm up. People always talked about courage like it was something you had when you weren’t afraid to jump out of airplanes or fight in ridiculous wars. Watching Mark, Seth had learned a lot about courage. True courage was walking into a room full of people when the very idea made you break into a sweat. Or talking to a stranger when the words choked in your throat. Or being with the man you loved even though it terrified you. Because Mark did love him. He did. Seth could tell it in the way Mark looked at him and the way his hands felt on Seth’s skin.

Flowers. Was that too much? Not enough? Seth had debated making dinner reservations somewhere quiet where they could have a table away from everyone else. But that might end up as another test of courage, with Mark going along to make Seth happy but sweating bullets the whole time. That would be a cruel valentine. Better to settle for flowers, good steaks and a long night in bed—something they’d both enjoy.

He pulled up to the curb in front of the apartment building. The lights were on. He climbed the stairs, smiling. Mark was somewhere inside. At home. He opened the door, expecting Mark on the other side, big and shy but always ready to kiss, a man whose native language was touch. The dogs bounded up to greet him.

“Mark?” No answer.

The living room was empty. The only other light was in the spare room. Mark would be lifting. The one thing Seth enjoyed about Mark’s constant anxiety was the way he soothed it by lifting weights. His hands around the barbell, his muscles bunching and quivering, sweat gleaming on his skin. Whew, baby.

Seth set the groceries in the kitchen and carried the flowers toward the spare room, which looked like a gym now—a full weight set and bench faced the mirrored wall and barre Seth had installed when he first moved in. It took a moment for Seth to register. Mark wasn’t moving. He sat on the weight bench holding up a dumbbell, his bicep bulging and beginning to shake. He was staring at his hand, a strange look on his face. Seth called his name but he didn’t look up. Shit. It had been a long time since Mark’s last full-blown panic attack. Almost long enough for Seth to forget. Almost.

Dropping the bouquet, Seth crossed the room and squatted beside Mark. He put his hand on Mark’s shoulder. “Hey.”

Seth reached for the dumbbell and wrapped his hand around Mark’s. Mark blinked, looked up at Seth and let him help lower the weight to the ground. Seth held Mark’s gaze. It was the only thing he knew to do, stand witness to Mark’s pain and fear without flinching. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn’t. But at least he was there.

“I’m sorry.” Mark croaked out.

“Nothing to be sorry about.” Seth rubbed Mark’s arm. It had to hurt. How long had he been holding up that weight?

Mark looked away. He swallowed. Seth stroked his arm. He hated watching Mark struggle—it left him feeling helpless, useless and mad at the universe for making life so hard for sweet, sweet Mark.

Seth nodded toward the kitchen. “I got some great stuff for dinner. If you walk the dogs, I’ll cook.”

Mark shook his head. He gestured toward his foot. “Fucked up my ankle. Took the dogs out an hour ago but I need to give it a rest.”

“You hurt yourself? How?” Seth followed his gaze, trying not to panic. His knee seemed to pulse an SOS—injury, danger, scary stuff. “Do we need to get you to the emergency room?”

“Just twisted.” Mark used his tee shirt to wipe his forehead. He met Seth’s eyes. “Stupid. I was trying to dance, and tripped.”

Seth stared at him. Each word made sense but this was Mark and… “Dance?”

Mark looked down. A deep blush colored the back of his neck and into his cheeks. He cleared his throat. “You like to dance.”

Seth stared at him. The dots slowly connected. “You were practicing so we could go dancing?”

Mark nodded, his eyes glued to the floor. “For Valentine’s.”

Seth’s chest ached. All those people crushed together on a dance floor—Mark’s biggest nightmare. “Oh man. You don’t have to… that’s such a sweet thought.”

“No. It’s not. I’m not.” Mark shook his head violently. “For Christ’s sake, I should be able to go dancing with the man I love.”

Seth sat back on his heels. The man he loved. His eyes welled and he blinked. He reached out and brushed Mark’s damp hair out of his eyes.

Mark gave him a sheepish look. “I planned to go out with you tonight, make you happy, and finally get up the balls to tell you I love you.”

Seth buried his face in Mark’s neck and whispered, “Yes. I love you too.”

Best Valentine ever.

Dog run

Jonas thought he was in a stable relationship – maybe not passionate or romantic – but a working partnership, in all senses of the phrase. Turns out he’s been fooling himself. It’s time to move on. He lands at a small town veterinary practice, not exactly the high powered research center he’s used to, but more like what he dreamed of as a boy.

Could be a place where dreams come true and love is always possible.

And on a side note, the third dog in Nobody’s Home – my new story (out now!) is a little thing named Squirrel.

Dog tired

My new story, Nobody’s Home, comes out from Amber Allure on 12/8. In it, Nick Alsteen, an up-and-coming New York artist unexpectedly inherits a load of chaos from his estranged father, including a filthy old run-down house, a length of the rope with which his father hung himself and a very sick bull dog. It’s a hell of a way to start a romance.

Photo by Chris (mybulldog) on flicker creative commons

Photo by Chris (mybulldog) on flicker creative commons