Gingerbread Palace Release Day: #nsfw excerpt #giveaway @emlynley

December 11, 2013

Gingerbread Palace by EM Lynley

Delectable Series Book #4

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Coupon Code

To celebrate the release of Gingerbread Palace, Dreamspinner Press is giving a special coupon code to get an additional 25% off any of my titles. Use coupon code: LynleyBlog (case sensitive) when you checkout from the Dreamspinner Website on December 11 and 12 only. See all of my DSP titles.

Excerpt:

Both engines were called out on an early morning run when Kevin arrived early for his shift the next morning, and he was the only one left in the house. He wanted to make progress with paperwork for the rest of the Bancroft Buns employee statements, hoping if he got it done before the new shift was due to report the captain might let him out of the doghouse. A kids’ tour of the firehouse was scheduled for later that morning, and Kevin had been assigned the task since he was still riding the desk.

As soon as he walked in the door, he was bombarded with the distinctive aroma of gingerbread. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and a few other mouthwatering notes he couldn’t quite place. He went into the kitchen and discovered dozens of cookies cooling on metal racks. The night shift had been busy baking before they’d been called out. He glanced around before remembering he was alone. Then he grabbed a cookie off a rack. It was still warm to the touch.

652635He broke off a foot and popped it into his mouth. Ginger exploded on his tongue, unexpectedly spicy. There were chewy chunks of crystallized ginger in each cookie too. The sweet and spicy balanced perfectly, and the cookies were so crisp. Alex Bancroft might be a public nuisance, but he was a damn good baker. This cookie was worth a few extra minutes on the treadmill, and he couldn’t leave half a cookie, could he? He munched on the rest of it and headed for the bathroom. He wanted to brush his teeth. Wash away the evidence and eliminate the desire for another cookie.

He went into the bathroom and heard the shower running. He wasn’t alone. Now he remembered, they’d let Alex stay while everyone was helping bake cookies. The water stopped and before Kevin could leave, Alex came out of the shower area and headed for the sinks where Kevin stood.

“Hi, Kevin,” Alex said. The guy was always smiling, even though his business had burned down. No one could be that cheerful, especially at six thirty in the morning.

He had a towel slung loosely around his waist, and his hair was still wet, bangs falling into his eyes. He looked far too much like that shower dream Kevin had had—more than once.

“Morning.” Kevin tried not to stare at the firm, smooth chest and the nipples that haunted his daydreams. Alex didn’t have a gym physique, but clearly he got a decent workout from all the lifting and carrying he must do in the bakery. His pecs were nicely shaped, and he had some definition in his shoulders and biceps.

“You’re here early.” Alex’s hand was still bandaged, with a big Baggie over it. He pulled the plastic off and grabbed a can of shaving cream from the counter and turned toward Kevin. “Not talking? That’s okay. I like the strong, silent type.”

That got Kevin’s blood boiling. Why was Alex being such a tease? “Will you cut that shit out? I’m not interested in you.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone your secret. Stay in the closet.”

“I’m not—” Kevin’s hands balled into fists before realized it, and he tried to pull himself together. He didn’t look at Alex. As if not seeing him would make him go away. Why didn’t he just leave? In the mirror he saw Alex shake the can of shaving cream. The towel slipped off his hips. Kevin couldn’t help staring. Alex’s cock, which hung down past his balls, was worth staring. Five inches now? What would it look like hard?

Alex didn’t pick up the towel. “Go ahead. I don’t mind if you look. Like I said, I won’t say anything. But I don’t believe your protests.” He put the shaving cream down on the counter and walked up close to Kevin. “Tell me again you’re not interested.”

Kevin pushed Alex back a pace, intending to leave, but once his fingers grazed Alex’s warm, damp skin, his brain stopped communicating with his feet. Alex put a hand on Kevin’s belt buckle, and all hell broke loose in his shorts. He couldn’t stop the erection, and he felt the blood filling his cock until it almost hurt. It would be completely obvious in the fitted uniform trousers.

Alex looked in that direction and smiled. “At least part of you isn’t lying. The important part.”

Thank God no one else was around for this. Kevin grabbed Alex’s wrist off his belt, and instead of pulling it away, he pulled Alex in close and Kevin’s other arm went around his waist, almost of its own accord. With Alex’s body pressed against his, Kevin leaned in for a kiss. Alex opened his mouth and let Kevin in. He tasted like toothpaste and smelled woodsy from the station’s body wash. His lips were soft, yet firm, and his tongue danced around Kevin’s.

—————

Leave a comment with your impressions of the excerpt for a chance to win any e-book in the Delectable Series

The Science of “Swiftsilver”, A.K.A. I Have Never Written Steampunk Before And It Shows

October 27, 2013

Hello to all! This is Bell Ellis, the author of “Swiftsilver” which appears in Dreamspinner’s Steampunk Anthology, Steamed Up. I’ve written a few other stories over at the site, but this would be my first steampunk story.

I was absolutely positive that I was doomed as I wrote it, because a) I know almost nothing of steampunk, and b) I wanted to bring Science(!) into the story, and Science(!), as we all know, is difficult to fake. I was fortunate in being able to consult a few friends who think more about these things than I do.

Here is an excerpt from my story:

One day, Thio was playing with a small square of it (enameled to a piece of flannel), when he sat up. “Seamus, look at this.”

“What is it?”

“Take this patch of swiftsilver and wave it back and forth in the air.” Seamus did so, waving it haphazardly, and Thio shook his head. “Not like that; keep the flat side facing the push of the air. Like this.” He held Seamus’s hand and helped him move the patch from side to side, pushing it against the air as though waving a fan. Seamus could immediately tell what Thio had noticed: on the silver side of the patch, there was intense resistance to the air, but on the flannel side, there was very little. The effect was baffling. When one waves a fan, the air resistance is equal on both sides. To have it feel so dramatically different….

“What the devil kind of substance is this?”

Seamus said, “It’s… a semipermeable membrane, Thio. Air passes through one side more easily than the other. Thio, that would be perfect for a wing. You would resist the air beneath on the downswing, but not the air above on the upswing.”

The idea of swiftsilver’s particular properties came to me when a friend of mine mentioned the thought experiment of Maxwell’s Demon. Maxwell’s Demon is basically a powerful little creature that opens a door between two chambers and allows hot molecules into one, and cool molecules into the other, to artificially create a temperature difference and defeat entropy. Apparently some demons need hobbies.

I thought, what if a substance could do that?

The same friend of mine went on to talk about vacuum airships, and the technical aspects of the story unfolded from there. Then I had to throw a bucket of cold water over my friend to get him to stop talking about technical constructs so that I could go and write the Glandularly Meaningful bits.

I’ve begun to read the anthology myself, and I’m delighted to see that I wasn’t the only person to focus heavily on technology (some of them even involve math, but don’t be frightened, it’s just a story); but that just betrays my basic ignorance of steampunk. Of course it would all contain technology and inventions and near-miraculous science (sorry, Science(!)). But that’s what makes this collection of stories special.

Are you a technically-oriented reader? Does it drive you crazy when writers get things wrong, or make you stand up and applaud when they get things right?  Leave a comment and tell me all about it.

If you ever want to natter at me about my other stories, writing in general, dogs, pie, contortionists (I’m doing research for another story), or anything else that inspires you, please feel free to poke at me on Twitter, where I exist as EllisTales.

How “The Galatea’s Captain” Throws a Wrench in the Machine

October 27, 2013

Hello, beautiful dreamers!

Anka here, back to talk to you about Steamed Up, DSP’s newest steampunk anthology!

“The Galatea’s Captain” was the first steampunk story I ever completed (and one of my very first completed stories in general, because I’m a total loser). I got a bit experimental with it, so my process, I think, makes for a kooky little anecdote:

Basically, I decided a) I was going to submit a story to the anthology, b) I was going to Google a list of steampunk tropes and include them as many as humanly possible, and c) I’d spice it up with my own individual flavor. It was a fun and challenging experience!

Immediately, I knew that I’d do the lattermost by including lots of characters of color. Most steampunk stories tend to be set in Victorian England, with white English characters, which can make sense, but as a person of color, I wanted a character like me, with various strengths and vulnerabilities, tossed into a setting that intrigued me.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Galatea’s Captain” so you get a quick look at the plot and my protagonist, Kamil, who’s recently lost a limb and commissions the help of a brilliant tinker to fill the emptiness in his life:

The frigid air of Alba, capital city of Camlaan, sends a phantom ache through Kamil Ramses’s bad leg. Despite the chill, a light sheen of sweat begins to mist across his brow when he steps out of the horse-drawn carriage the Duchess of Althea had reserved for them.

Seeing his pinched expression, she hooks his right arm in her left and says, “Oh, Mr. Ramses, please do not tax yourself! I just knew we should have brought along your chair!”

He winces. Ever since his arrival in Camlaan, he’d been sequestered away in the Altheas’ sprawling estate, stuck convalescing in the wooden wheelchair its master had commissioned on his behalf. The cane he now holds, made from ironwood and embellished with gold, is also a gift from the wealthy old couple, but he prefers it immensely. It allows him some autonomy, at least.

“Don’t worry, Your Grace, I’ve become quite accustomed to this by now,” he replies after a moment, smile stilted. If he could, if it would serve to allay her doubts, he would pat her hand.

Instead, he gazes out at the harbor ahead of them. The sea breeze tickles his nose, whipping his long, dark swath of hair around his narrow face in spite of the cord around it. No boats are visible on the water, hidden by the colossal bodies of anchored airships, comprised of various woods and metals, fantastical figureheads carved into their bows. Their colorful sails billow in the wind, blotting out the gray sky above.

Although he misses Siro, his homeland, rather intensely, Kamil admits to himself that Camlaan has many virtues, many incredible, beautiful sights. Perhaps when he recovers, he can pay proper homage to them. If he ever does.

“Shall we continue?” The duchess’s hesitant voice disrupts his reverie.

He flashes her another smile, disarming this time. “Yes, I’m ready now.”

She beams up at him through the netted veil of her hat. Elaborate silvering curls encase her round face, contrasting starkly with the black lace of her gown. Her small hand remains a chaste weight on his arm as she guides him into the heart of the harbor, humming all the while.

“What can you tell me about this Air Pirate Talos?”

So there we have it! An injured philosopher from another land, a “pirate” who ends up not much of a pirate at all, and all of the assorted people who get sucked into their affairs! I hope you’ll read Steamed Up and “The Galatea’s Captain”, and that you enjoy them if you do.

While we’re on the topic, what are some of the things you’d like to see in steampunk that break out of the standard mold of the genre? What settings beside Victorian England? What sort of characters? Did any of the authors in Steamed Up do something in their stories that surprised you? Do tell!

It was a pleasure talking with you all today. Don’t be a stranger! Remember, you can find me, my stories, and links to social networking sites I haunt on the Dreamspinner Press website. Steamed Up is available in ebook and paperback formats.

A Clockwork Nightingale?

October 27, 2013

Hi. I’m Amy Rae Durreson, and I’m joining Mary, Eli and some of our fellow authors to talk about the Steamed Up Anthology. My story, “The Clockwork Nightingale’s Song” is the second story in the collection. It’s about an engineer, an inventor, a flying pleasure garden, and a clockwork nightingale with a broken heart.

I’ll be talking a little more about my historical inspirations later today, but to get us started, have a little taster of the story. Here Senior Engineer Shem Holloway and his apprentice are at work in the Vauxhall Flying Pleasure Gardens when the nightingale’s inventor Lord Gabriel Marchmont arrives to demand their attention, much to Shem’s annoyance.

That night, Shem found it hard to concentrate on his rounds. He was distracted by the thought of a brass nightingale that refused to sing and, more and more as the evening underwent its daily transformation from charming to wild, of its creator, his unguarded smile, the arrogance Shem wanted to slap off that pretty face, and his fine hands.

Should we check the fountain, Mr. Holloway?” the boy asked, breaking him out of his daydream.

Shem glanced at Neptune’s fountain, currently occupied by three very drunk young men: one sitting in the water up to his waist and the others, shirtless, copying the pose of the great statue for the benefit of a squealing crowd of women who were clearly no better than they ought to be.

Have some sense, boy.”

The boy’s eyes were wistful, and he wet his lips a little before venturing, “But they might need our help, Mr. Holloway.”

Like that, was it? Shem could see they were pretty, for drunken louts, the water slicking across their bare, muscled chests, and the colored lights which hung in the surrounding trees washing them with a gold-and-purple glow. Still, anyone who stripped off in a fountain on a June night in England deserved to get pneumonia, and he wasn’t going to let his apprentice lust after buffoons. “The constables will be along in a moment to help them all the way to the dock.”

But, Mr. Holloway….”

Come along, boy.” Shem firmly steered the boy away.

He wasn’t expecting a firm clap on his shoulder and an all-too-familiar posh voice to say, “There you are, Holloway. Must say the entertainment’s changed in tone a little since I was last here.”

I can assure you that the management does not….” Shem started and protested as Marchmont plucked the key from his hand and unlocked the gate in the hedge. “My lord, the paths are for employees—”

I’m on a retainer,” Marchmont said cheerily, pushing them through the gate. He was still in evening dress, but there was a lot more ink smudged across his cuffs.

A loud splash and a roar of jeering laughter sounded behind them, and both Marchmont and the boy craned in that direction, as if they could see through three inches of dense laurel hedge. Irritated, Shem said, “We weren’t expecting you quite yet, my lord.”

Oh, I couldn’t stop thinking on it. I’ve revisited all my notes, and the standard reference texts, and now I must see the bird in situ. You’ve restored it to its post?”

Some hours ago, sir.”

The boy was quivering with curiosity, so Shem said to him, “Nightingale No. 48. Show me that you can find the way.”

The boy darted ahead a little, and Marchmont commented, “It’s a veritable maze behind the scenes. You could make a fortune opening this up to the public. Mazes are all the thing, you know. I designed revolving hedgerows for the one at Blenheim.”

We do try to keep undesirables out of the staff areas, sir,” Shem remarked. Marchmont seemed to have relaxed considerably since the afternoon, and Shem eyed him suspiciously. Was he drunk?

Luckily, I am considered quite the catch,” Marchmont said as a money capsule went rattling through the pneumatic tube attached to the side rail of the path. “I say, what do you do about rust?”

This little snippet contains my favorite line in the entire story. It’s a throwaway remark, so I’m very glad it made it through the editing process intact. Anybody want to guess what it is?

Prepare for takeoff!

October 27, 2013

Hello everyone!

My name’s Mary Pletsch and I’m the author of Ace of Hearts, one of the stories in the Steamed Up Anthology.  It’s my pleasure to be here chatting with all of you today.  I’m looking forward to showing some excerpts from Ace of Hearts, sharing some bits of real-world history that shaped the story, and enjoying some conversation with other romance lovers.

Prepare for takeoff!  Here’s a little teaser from Ace of Hearts:

*

The flight leader was the spitting image of Dirigible Captain James Hinson, two-time winner of the Distinguished Flying Bar.

William felt his jaw drop. The man looked exactly like Hinson’s newspaper daguerreotypes—strong chin, chiseled features, a tousled lock of hair tumbling over his forehead—except that his hair was sandy brown. Funny how William had imagined him as a ginger, like William himself. William had spent a lot of time in the past year fantasizing about the famous ace Captain Hinson, but he’d never dared dream he’d get to meet the man himself.

William blinked, revised his personal image of Captain Hinson, and then dared to look again. He had to be mistaken. But when he opened his eyes, the newcomer was still the spitting image of the famous dirigible pilot, and he was standing in front of his purple-striped aircraft. The buried memory dislodged itself and swam up to the surface of William’s thoughts. Hinson’s dirigibles’ baskets had always been marked by distinctive purple stripes, just like the lead Gryphon.

What business would a hero like Captain Hinson have in a heavier-than-air squadron?

*

Captain Hinson is William’s ideal for a steampunk hero – what’s yours?

The Steamed Up Anthology is available now:

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4267 for the eBook or http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4324 for the paperback.

Saving Sonny James: the X-excerpt you never expected to see (and the final contest! win book money!)

October 22, 2013

All you have to do is comment in reply to this post, anywhere in this release party, with the words “book money” somewhere in the comment, and you’re in the running for $20 on your account at Dreamspinner to spend as you like and Saving Sonny James paperback or ebook.

THE night after Luki talked to Kaholo was the first one in a couple weeks that found him struggling to find sleep. Finally, he allowed his thoughts to drift toward his husband and his fingers to drift toward his restless sex.

Once he started remembering and imagining his tall, dark, lithe lover, he couldn’t stop. And once Sonny’s beauty entered and filled his aching, sweet, waking dream, his hands wouldn’t stop. His neglected penis thickened and leaked and begged, and though Luki couldn’t remember the last time he’d masturbated, he got right with the program.

Not content to jerk off quickly in a half somnolent fashion, he sat up and stripped his lower half naked, switched on the small light next to the bed, and spread his legs wide, knees up, so he could see. Smiling at himself and thinking of Sonny, he ran his palm over the wide, glistening head of his cock and gathered a little reservoir of precum, then brought it to his mouth and dragged his tongue through it. He chuckled, then bit his lip. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but of course his own product, though tasty, wasn’t nearly as sweet as Sonny’s. Briefly he wondered why he could remember Sonny’s flavor so clearly, but he couldn’t remember the particulars of any other man he’d tasted—and of course there had been a few.

Knowing the experience wouldn’t come close to sex with beautiful Sonny,
Luki decided nevertheless to take it slow, make a feast of the masturbation experience. He handled his hardening testes, running his hands over the silky skin, watching the motion, pretending they were Sonny’s long fingers, pretending the balls he cradled in his own hands were Sonny’s. It didn’t quite work—the differences in anatomy meant Luki really had to work at the imagining, but he persisted, and if it wasn’t perfect, it was good. Next, using spit and precum for lube, he let his fingers wander over his perineum and straight into his ass. All other considerations aside, Luki liked getting fucked, had liked it from the very first time. Other considerations meant he craved the top role more than the bottom, but sometimes Sonny….

“Oh, Sonny,” he whispered, feeling Sonny’s long, straight erection rather than his own two digits. The fingers weren’t quite adequate, but they were a passable substitute as long as he doggedly kept his fantasy in mind. He drew his fingers out then slammed them back in, rough, speeding up and finding a rhythm, relishing the burn and—even though it was a bit of a reach—managing to tap his prostate, stimulating the deep pleasure the little gland had to offer.

He could have come to orgasm with just that, but he didn’t want to, so he gentled the motion and slowed the rhythm almost to a stop. He reached for his cock with his other hand, stroked it once, twice, but stopped that too and instead pinched first one nipple then the other. He made it hurt, made the nipples red and puckered, hard nubs standing out like markers, which was so pleasurable that again he thought he might come. He stopped, wet his fingers in his mouth, and soothed the same nipples he’d just tortured.

Again he said, “Oh, Sonny,” and now he started to stroke, twisting a bit, running his thumb over the slick head. In no time—too soon he thought—he felt his orgasm begin to insist, to rise, to gather force, and then he exploded, groaning out Sonny’s name over and over in a tortured, raspy cry.

He felt mildly strange when it was over, laughed at himself a little, even. But after he cleaned up, he slept well, and he dreamed only of his love. It was good.

Saving Sonny James excerpt two: Meet Jesse Douglas–Luki’s sexy ex (yes, really) and another informal poll (decisions…)

October 22, 2013

Poll question: Do you think a spin-off starring Jesse shoud be forthcoming, or is he too… risky? (I’d sincerely like your feedback.)

Long before Sonny James Luki had a bit of a romance with a ginger man named Jesse Douglas. Jesse is sexy, quiet, capable, and a bit of a badass himself. He doesn’t look like Rupert, or Prince Harry, or this:

(Although some of us may wish that he did.)

This little excerpt is the by-chance, surprise meeting after many years between Jesse and Luki, on the plane heading for France, where Luki is determined to rescue his husband from whatever evil has befallen him.

Luki glanced up in time to see a man who had turned in his seat three rows up and across the aisle, looking at him—a man with brilliant green eyes.

For real.

Maybe the eyes distracted him, forcing his attention for no reason except their color. For too long an instant, he didn’t recognize the owner of those startling irises. But the man continued to walk toward him, smiling, and Luki knew him. The real memory finally overcame imagination.

“Jesse,” Luki said when the tall, slender ginger-haired man was close.

“Hey, Luki! Been a long time, eh? Too long.”

Luki couldn’t decide if it was too long or not long enough. Jesse had been part of his life—an anomaly—before Sonny, even before Luki had decided to forego attachments and keep solitary and safe with one-night stands done his way. In his youth Luki had twice tried to have a more significant relationship. One was with a guy in college, Graham Kennedy, whom Luki had dated—for real, dated—for a couple of months until Graham had decided to aim for the Catholic priesthood. Jesse, this mellow and still attractive green-eyed agent standing in the aisle on the flight to France, had been the other. They had trained together at FLETC—the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, in Georgia. Jesse had been a new hire with the State Department, and Luki had been new to ATF. That put them in the minority among FBI newbies and cops from various parts of the country, and they gravitated together when they had downtime. Sharing meals and movies and jokes started them talking. Serious study and skills practice started them touching.

Jesse was a likeable guy, adventurous and sexy. But he’d wanted things Luki couldn’t give. He’d wanted to be equals. He’d wanted to be in love. He’d wanted commitment. Luki couldn’t give any of that, then. And after that he didn’t let anyone get close enough even to think about such things.
Until Sonny. Sonny proved to be the one of a kind, sole contender for Luki’s devotion.

Still, Luki held no ill will for Jesse—he even had good memories, and maybe what he felt could be called fondness. So when his old, once intimate friend came up to him smiling his soft smile, Luki patted his extra, empty seat. “Join me for a bit?”

Jesse accepted the offer, and once he was seated said, “Damn, Luki, you look good!”

Luki started to deny that, then gave himself a mental shake. He did look good—or at least he looked like himself. He was groomed and well-dressed, and his body was in almost top shape. His eyes—he knew—had lost the glazed absent look they’d worn since Umatilla, and he’d gotten enough outdoor air for his skin to look its best, hate-scar down the left side of his face and all. And this man sitting next to him had rather liked that scar, even though—until Sonny—Luki had always thought it made him ugly. So instead of arguing, Luki just said, “Thanks. You too, Jesse. How are you? Still working for State?”

“Yeah, I am—moved out of the field agent ranks, though. Now I’m a pencil pusher.” His smile was wide and sincere, as it always had been, but he’d collected some deep lines around his eyes. His hair had some whitish streaks among the ginger too. It wasn’t a bad look on him. “You’re still with ATF, or no? I’ve heard different things….”

“Yes. I haven’t been working since last summer. I… well, it’s a long story. But I’m active duty now.”

“Are you official, then? I mean, is your trip to Europe connected with a case or something? Seems kind of unusual for ATF.”

Luki recognized the slight shift in Jesse’s voice, the minute narrowing of his eyes. Those little changes told him Jesse had switched from personal interest to professional. He was trying to gauge whether Luki’s visit was going to spell trouble for the State Department. Luki answered to set the man’s mind at ease. “No, Jesse. It’s personal. I’m on vacation leave.” For a change of subject, he asked a question even though the answer was evident. “Your duty station is in Europe?”

“Yeah, gay Par-ee.” He laughed, but it wasn’t entirely in mirth. “Hey, listen. I could see the sparkle off those rings clear over across the cabin. They’re on your left hand. Do they have the usual meaning?” Jesse dropped his gaze and pushed his hair back off his forehead. It changed nothing—the heavy forelock flopped right back down over his brow—but his posture and that nervous swipe of his hair was full of meaning. It told Luki the question held emotional impact for Jesse.

After all this time, Luki mused, but out loud he just said, “Yes.”

“I thought you…. Has it been long?”

“No, not really. We met last year, married this past summer.”

Jesse stared at Luki for a few minutes, as if he were trying to tunnel through his eyes to reach his brain and read what he found there. He tilted his head sideways, shaking it and laughing in disbelief. “You’re in love, Luki Vasquez! I can’t believe it!”

It wasn’t unkind, though faintly colored with old frustrations, Luki thought. He watched his friend, marveling that he could still read his old flame so well. Jesse had leaned forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped, his long, straight spine stretched but his shoulders slightly hunched, fighting with himself over something. Finally, he spoke in a breathy voice that told Luki how hard he had struggled not to ask, not to tread this path. “Have there been a lot of men since me, Luki?”

Luki’s long habit of privacy, of playing everything close to the vest, made him hesitate. But he thought it was a fair question, and Jesse was a good man, and though Luki would never have expected it, apparently for Jesse the end of their brief foray into coupledom remained unresolved. “No,” he said softly, but then he corrected himself. “Well, yes, but out of them all, you were the only one that mattered in any way, until Sonny—my husband.”

Clearly Jesse had been hanging on the words. Immediately he responded, “I mattered.”

Biting back a bit of his own frustration now, Luki spoke as kindly and honestly as he could. “Yes, of course you mattered, Jesse. The time we spent together was fun and sweet for what it was, and you helped me know myself. I remember only good things about you, and after we split I missed you.”

“Why didn’t you ever call?”

“Jesse.”

“Or even e-mail?”

“Jesse.” Luki let his voice take on a note of warning. As much as he held no ill will for his long-ago lover, he just wasn’t inclined to have this discussion. He’d already gone above and beyond, as far as he was concerned. “Stop,” he said.

Jesse visibly shook off his tension, sat up, and sat back in the seat. “Okay,” he said. “Sorry. Sometimes I get unreasonable.”

Luki said, “Yes, yes, you do. I remember.”

At first it looked as though Jesse was going to take offense at that, but then perhaps memory struck, because he laughed. “I’d bet you’ll never forget,” he said. “But okay, change of subject. Why are you going to Europe? Are you stopping in Paris?”

“Yeah. Paris. I think that’s as far as I’m going.” He allowed himself a sigh as today’s reality sank over him. What to say, though? He wasn’t prone to giving out a lot of information, but it crossed his mind that he had no allies lined up on the far shore, and Jesse might be in a position to help. So, “Um…. Well, it’s where Sonny is, my husband.”

“Do I detect a note of… I don’t know, trouble?”

“Probably. So what do you do, these days—for State, I mean. If it’s not classified.”

“Some classified, but generally I work on various problems around US citizens abroad—they get arrested or stranded or whatever. Why did you ask? Is there something you need help with?”
“Maybe. I don’t really want to lay everything out right here, right now, but Sonny’s sort of… missing.”

Jesse’s whole demeanor changed, taking on his professional persona, which
Luki appreciated. “I take it you’re sure he’s not evading?”

A swift wind of self-doubt swept over Luki—would he want to leave me?—but it passed, leaving him only slightly shaken. Truth was, it didn’t matter. Harold Breslin was anything but trustworthy, and as long as Sonny was in the same country with him, he wasn’t safe. But deep in his heart, he knew Sonny would never walk away from him, from their love, their marriage, their home. Never would he disappear on purpose. “Not evading,” he said.

“In danger?”

“I’m afraid maybe so.”

Saving Sonny James brief excerpt: Luki asks Santa for… (and an informal poll, answers please?)

October 22, 2013

Informal poll question: What’s your take on humor in romance and suspense fiction? (a) detracts, stop it, bugs me; (b) love it, should be more; (c) some, carefully placed and balanced helps show humanity in the characters and makes the tough stuff easier to get through; (d)some other answer; (e) plead the fifth.

“WHY not, Luki?” Sonny had sent Harold on his way quickly and come upstairs while Luki was still finishing his shower. Luki, groggy again after standing a long time with hot drops pelting his skin, sat on the stool afterward, and Sonny dried his hair with a fluffy towel. The two of them barely fit in Margie’s tiny, feminine, neat little bathroom at the same time, but that didn’t prevent Sonny from attacking Luki’s head with real vigor. At the same time, he was trying to convince Luki to fly to France with him and Harold. “I’ll make sure you get first class, and I’ll have them tow a giant brick of sugar under the plane so the flight attendant can swoop down and pick up a ton of granules whenever you want coffee.” He felt gratified when Luki laughed—never easy to make that happen, and especially not lately.

“I guess I never told you,” Luki said, and then he pulled Sonny down for a kiss. “But since I met you, sometimes I don’t add the sugar.”

“See! I’m good for you. I’ve convinced you to fix that bad health habit.”

“Not exactly. Besides my sugar is probably not as bad for me as that flavored chemical creamer is for you! No, the reason I forget the sugar is because everything already tastes sweet when I’m with you.” Anyone else would have probably punctuated that with a cheesy grin, Sonny thought, but Luki just bobbed his eyebrows and it had the same effect. Sonny laughed, hard, which finally resulted in a slow smile from his husband. Luki said, “I love that, you know. When you laugh really hard like that? You sound like Woody Woodpecker.”

With a supreme effort Sonny stopped laughing, or at least almost, put his hands on his hips, and said, “I do not!”

“No really, you do babe. If I can figure out how, I’ll record it on my phone so you can hear yourself.”

Luki kept an almost completely straight face, but Sonny could see the gleam of fun—joy, maybe—in his eyes, and it was like clean water and fresh air, reprieve. Perhaps unfortunately, the feeling overwhelmed him. And tears stung his eyes, though none fell, and his lip twitched, and the whole damn good mood was broken. How could he explain that he was falling apart because he felt so good? “I’m sorry….”

Luki stood up and wrapped his big, strong arms around Sonny, and then pulled him tight against his chest, stroking his back, kissing his hair. “No, baby. I’m sorry. For how I’ve…. What I’ve become.”

“I love you, Luki—no matter what. And… just now, you were like you are… usually… with me.”

“Yeah,” Luki said. “Today’s a good day. I haven’t had many lately. They’ve just been getting worse and worse, and yesterday… I was so scared, baby.

How can I make you understand? I’d never want to hurt you, and I didn’t have any way to control it! Shit, I didn’t even know I was doing it.” He shook his head, punished his lip with his teeth, then very quietly added, “I couldn’t stay there, sweetie. If it happened again, if I ever hurt you, that would be worse than dying, worse than anything.”

Sonny felt a surge of anger. He growled, “But if you did die, Luki! Like at that fucking place! Like when that man…. That green-eyed guard you can’t seem to stop worrying over was going to fucking shoot you dead! If you’d died then, Luki….” By now Sonny’s rage had turned into sobs, and he just that moment realized how badly the whole situation was fucking with his own head. “I wouldn’t have wanted to live, either. Fuck… Luki. You didn’t do anything wrong. Can’t you just… I don’t know.” His flame had spluttered out, and now he sat down on the edge of the bathtub feeling defeated.

He half expected Luki to be pissed that he’d spoken to him—yelled at him—like that. Amazingly, Luki’s humor resurfaced instead, and he sat on Sonny’s knee. He whispered into his ear, “And for Christmas, Santa—or sooner, if you can make the extra trip south—I’d like to get my big-boy badass pants back.”

Spark: Release Party & Sensitive Topics

September 2, 2013

As I finish up my release party today, I’m getting ready to send my daughter off to middle school, one of those things that many parents dread. It’s more scary than it is to release a new book out into the wild, but I’m so glad you’ve been here to help me celebrate this wonderful day. Thank you. I’ll give you another little taste from Spark, one that deals with family, but first, I’d like to talk about sensitive subject matter.

I’m used to writing about sensitive issues, controversial topics, and even kinks that are squick-worthy to some, but not to all. When I wrote Spark, knowing from the start that it was going to be a trilogy inspired by something that actually happens in Fusion of North Star (book 2), I knew I was going to need to touch on sensitive topics.

Bisexuality. What? How is bisexuality a sensitive issue? To me, it’s not, but it is often one of the less visible letters in GLBT. And there are a lot of assumptions made about bisexuals that are far from true. Kevin Magnus just so happens to be bi. When we meet him in high school, he’s only dated girls. He’s never even been attracted to boys, until he meets Hugo Thorson. (Ooo, just writing that makes me excited! Self-discovery is wonderful.)

Kids. Wait. Before you run away, please hear me out. Over the years I’ve heard people talk about their dislike of kids in fiction. Spark (and all of North Star) is not centered around kids, but Kevin does have children who are part of the story. No matter what, Kevin is their dad, and one of his internal struggles his entire life has been to not turn into his distant father. Kevin would never abandon his children, so his kids are present. I’ve occasionally been the reader who rolls her eyes when a three-year-old talks like she’s twenty-three, but hopefully my child development degrees have helped me create kids who act developmentally appropriate.

The over-arching theme of North Star is family. I use that term loosely at times, meaning community, neighborhoods, and chosen family. I also use it in the more formal sense: family of origin as well as the family you create when you move away from your family of origin.

As an adult, Hugo’s family (aside from his mom and sister) really consists of Summer and Gilbert. Summer is Hugo’s best friend who is practically a sister, and Gilbert is the friend who understands Hugo in a way he doesn’t even know himself.

Kevin’s family consists of his almost-ex-wife Erin and their two kids, Brooke (10) and Finn (5). Brooke and Finn meet Hugo, who isn’t sure he wants anything to do with kids, and Summer, who is a kindergarten teacher that thinks kids are the greatest thing on earth. So how do you start a romance between a guy who’s not sure he even likes kids and a man who already has two kids of his own? You’ll have to read.

Separation/Divorce. That’s the third sensitive topic Spark deals with. Kevin is weeks away from finalizing his divorce when he meets up with Hugo seventeen years after their high school romance ended. Erin and Kevin have both agreed to start dating other people. Their romance was over long before Kevin asked for a divorce. They’d had a loveless marriage for years, and Erin even buys him a box of condoms (scene from book 2, Fusion), reminding him how often newborns wake up in the middle of the night. Erin is dating as well, so neither Erin nor Kevin see dating as cheating because of their agreement.

Erin is part of this story as well. She needs to be, because Kevin and Erin are still raising their kids together. That parenting relationship doesn’t dissolve as easily as a marriage does, or at least that’s the hope, even if in real life that happens a lot.

I truly enjoy writing about more than just a couple. I like writing about all the people surrounding the couple, because they make life richer, more complicated, and certainly more colorful. I can’t help but think of the saying “No man is an island” right now. It’s very true. We are shaped by the people around us and our experiences with them. I find writing about all those players to be very rewarding, and I believe it gives readers a richer understanding of the characters they get to know in fiction.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 16 where Kevin and Hugo’s families meet.

As Hugo and Kevin chopped a variety of veggies to wrap in foil packets for the grill and Summer added seasoning, the adults took some time getting to know each other, covering what they did for work and fun as well as where they were originally from. They inevitably tried to play Six Degrees of Separation with the people they knew from the various towns in Minnesota they’d each lived in over the years but could only come up with one connection which seemed to be at least eight degrees away. Unless you counted Myles, but they didn’t.

“I should get Brooke and Finn down here. I put in The Princess Bride so we could have a few uninterrupted adult minutes. You ready to meet them?” he directed at Hugo and Hugo alone.

He finished a swallow of wine and nodded. “Sure.”

Kevin climbed the stairs two at a time, Hugo watching after him, unable to keep from noticing how Kevin’s pants seemed to hug him in all the right places. And the bare feet on the wooden stairs distracted him again, so he missed Summer’s patter of conversation beside him. Kevin disappeared around the corner, no longer visible from the dining area where they were now seated. Hugo’s knee started bouncing, and Summer pressed a warm, calming hand to it.

“You’re not here on an interview to be their dad, okay?” she reminded him. “You’re just an old friend. Nothing else, so don’t work yourself up.”

“You’re right,” he whispered. “You’re always right.” He took a deep breath and slowly let it out through his nose, relaxing the muscles in his neck at the same time. With all the thinking he’d done in the last day about their past, his feelings for Kevin seemed to be reignited and burning white-hot, but he couldn’t get ahead of himself. “What do you think so far?” he asked, beyond curious.

“He’s hot and nice. His smile is amazing, and so are his gray eyes.”

Grey, ringed in midnight, he thought and was glad he’d kept his description to himself. “Okay, I already know all that. What do you think of him?”

“So far, so good. He seems… kind, warm. But I’m withholding my judgment like you asked me to. I’m going to give him the whole night until I’m even going to let myself go there and just be your best friend, okay?” Hugo nodded and took a quick, nervous sip. “Really, I’ve spent most of my time watching you, so far. Considering you haven’t seen him since you were eighteen, barring the other night, I’d think you guys had known each other forever. Well, except for the little moment you had back there where you were drooling over him.”

Hugo threw a cocktail napkin at Summer’s face and shook his head, ready to start berating her for being too harsh when a tall but slight girl with waist-length dark hair slowly walked down the stairs as if she had just woken up from a nap. Behind her, following quickly, was a cherubic-faced, strawberry-blond boy who easily overtook her. Kevin trotted down in bouncy movements to land at the bottom of the stairs at the same time as the girl.

“Brooke and Finn, I’d like you to meet my good friend Hugo and his friend Summer.”

The children were very polite, saying, “Pleased to meet you,” in unison. Obviously Kevin’s father had ingrained good manners into these kids before he died. More likely, it was Kevin and his ex, Hugo corrected his thoughts. Kevin rested his large hands on his kids’ shoulders in what seemed like a comforting gesture and gently squeezed when they spoke. All his motions did was distract Hugo from the children and draw all attention to Kevin’s hands. When had they gotten to be so big? The sight took his mind to dirty places it shouldn’t be while meeting children.

Hugo returned to pleasantries as best he could but was more than relieved when the teacher side of Summer came out, naturally moving the conversation on to things the kids were engaged in. It was as if a switch had been flipped, and Kevin’s kids came to life, talking animatedly and pulling Summer into the backyard to show her their sea glass collection.

“Sea glass?” Hugo asked Kevin skeptically. “Don’t you need a sea for that?”

“It’s just tumbled glass they find washed up on the beach. They love the stuff, and we spent most of today digging in the sand. I think Brooke wants to make some jewelry for her friend. Something about BFF necklaces, whatever those are. Finn just likes to dig in the sand and water. He’d be just as happy finding fish skeletons and chunks of concrete.”

“Best friends forever,” Hugo informed, but Kevin looked at him with a very puzzled expression on his face. “BFF means ‘best friends forever.’ Just thought I’d help decode the kid-speak for you.”

“Thanks. They say things I have no clue about sometimes. Well, at least Brooke does. Finn isn’t quite there yet, but Brooke is using abbreviations that make no sense to me half the time. I just figured out what ‘LOL’ meant on our drive back to the lake.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I’m kinda pathetic when it comes to pop culture.”

“Well, I can help with that,” Hugo flirted, smiling over his wine glass as he took another sip. “They seem like great kids. I have two nieces. The youngest is about Brooke’s age, but the oldest is getting into the testy teen years. Nothing seems to please her unless it’s related to technology. Sometimes I just end up texting her while in the same room to draw her out. It’s unconventional, but worth doing to be a part of her life.”

“Do you see them much?”

“Yeah. Quite often. Charisse and her family live in Robbinsdale, right on Twin Lake. I’m their unofficial baby-sitter and chauffeur when she or her husband needs help. They’re almost too old for a baby-sitter now, but I go and hang out with them.”

“So you’re good with kids?”

“I’m… I’m good with my nieces because I know them,” Hugo answered with uncertainty in his tone due to his lack of confidence in where the conversation was going. “I mean. I don’t have a ton of experience with kids aside from the girls. It’s hard to say if I’m good with kids or not based on nieces I held before they were even an hour old. They’ve never not known me.”

“Well, don’t be intimidated by my kids. Brooke is a bit slow to warm up to new people, but once she does, you won’t be able to get her to stop talking about things that interest her. Not so much about herself. And Finn is pretty much a bundle of energy all the time, but easily entertained.”

“I’m sure Summer will be able to keep up with them.”

“It already looks like it. She seems to know you really well,” Kevin observed.

“Yeah. Probably better than anyone aside from my sister.”

Kevin sipped his wine and took a quick look down toward the water. Hugo looked as well and saw Summer and the kids huddled over what must’ve been the beach glass. Summer picked up a piece of something cobalt-blue and held it up to the sun. Brooke’s face lit up, and Hugo watched as she animatedly told a story he couldn’t hear, but he suspected from all her pointing and mimed swimming that Brooke had seen the piece deep in the water and had to dive to get her hands on it. Summer beamed, smiling and laughing. Finn seemed to try to get in on the retelling of the story, but Brooke rolled her eyes and sat next to Summer while Finn took center stage. Hugo loved watching Summer with kids.

I’ve lived away from my hometown and family since right after my eighteenth birthday, so I’ve had to create a chosen family. I have friends nearly 20 years younger as well as 20 years older and everything in between. What sort of people make up your own chosen family?

This is the last chance to enter to win by commenting. I’ll post winners tomorrow. Thank you so much for allowing me to play with you today. I hope you enjoy Spark as much as I enjoyed writing it, and look for Fusion coming out sometime in November.

Spark: Character Inspiration & More

September 2, 2013

Spark is story about Hugo Thorson and Kevin Magnus at two different times in their lives: their teens and their mid-thirties. Gladly, I no longer look like I did when I was sixteen, because it was the eighties and I permed my hair, wore more makeup than was good for me, and thought shoulder pads were still cool. At least Hugo and Kevin were teens in the nineties and missed out on mullets, but that did leave me with the opportunity to find two very different looks for both of my main characters.

I had a lot of different faces representing Hugo and Kevin at different stages, and I also had a lot of hairstyles as well. Kevin had longer hair in his youth; Hugo had shorter. As adults, they switched. I knew the overall look I was going for with both of my characters, even if I couldn’t always find the exact face to fit. I’d like to share a few with you here.

Hugo has blue eyes, pale skin, and dark hair that is almost blue-black. As an adult, he has very defined cheekbones, and the model, Miles McMillan really became Hugo to me. While Miles has hazel eyes, in my head I always made them blue.

I described Kevin as an all-American golden boy. And while his long hair in his youth made him look more rebellious than he ever was, his father hated that image. Kevin secretly loved that his father hated his longer hair, but as you can see by the photo on the right, he cut his blond waves off as he matured into adulthood.

I could look at photos of these men for a very long time and not tire of it, but I realize some people may not quite get the Hugo in my head being represented by these photos. The joy of reading a book is that we get to create our own dream man, so if the images that inspired me to write don’t work for you, make your own. I’d love to see those images, in fact.

I also made very good use of my Pinterest boards to keep track of other images I wrote about in Spark. I have locations, items used by characters, food, dishes, and even images that just give the feel of a scene or two.

Since I live within driving distance of most of the locations in Spark, I was able to take several day trips and photograph important places. I used some of those photos of where Hugo and Kevin lived as teens to help create a video while I read an excerpt. If you’d like, go here to see it. I know the production value has a lot to be desired.

Here’s another little taste of Hugo’s impression of Kevin that takes place right after the reading in the video. You can read Chapter 1 here.

Kevin’s hair was much shorter than it had been when they first met, now cropped along the sides and back with thick, long strands pushed back off his forehead. It was still the same golden-blond that had attracted Hugo so many years ago when they introduced themselves on Kevin’s first day working at Hormel. When Kevin had stepped into the room where a nearly sixteen-year-old Hugo was just starting to hand-wash the delicate blown-glass vessels used in research and taste testing, Hugo almost broke a large beaker which probably cost more than he made in a week.

Nineteen years prior, Kevin had silky blond hair just skimming past his shoulders, which he had pulled back to look more office appropriate, but wispy bangs escaped the binding, framing his eyes and dark-blond brows. His eyes were gray and piercing, ringed in blue so dark it looked like the color of the sky at dusk right before it turned black. He was beautiful, but not classically so. His lips were too full for a man’s face, too full for him to not be called pretty, at least. But his long nose, high cheekbones, and strong jaw gave his face masculinity, even if all those distinctive lines did were draw Hugo’s focus right back to those pink, parted lips.

Question time: In your youth did you have a regrettable hairstyle? I certainly did. Answer and I’ll enter you in a drawing for one of three free eBook copies of Spark.

I can be found a number of other places too. My websiteFacebook, and Twitter. My website has a listing of everywhere else I can be found.