Friday, August 26, 2016

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: My Vampire Love Story BLOOD SACRIFICE



Blood Sacrifice is my only full-length vampire novel. It moves restlessly between present-day Chicago and 1950s New York City and the art scene in both times and places. It also asks deep questions about immortality, art, and love. And I like to think it's pretty scary!  

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BLURB

What would you give up for immortal life and love?

By day, Elise draws and paints, spilling out the horrific visions of her tortured mind. By night, she walks the streets, selling her body to the highest bidder.

And then they come into her life: a trio of impossibly beautiful vampires: Terence, Maria, and Edward. When they encounter Elise, they set an explosive triangle in motion.

Terence wants to drain her blood. Maria just wants Elise . . . as lover and partner through eternity. And Edward, the most recently-converted, wants to prevent her from making the same mistake he made as a young abstract expressionist artist in 1950s Greenwich Village: sacrificing his artistic vision for immortal life. He is the only one of them still human enough to realize what an unholy trade this is.

Blood Sacrifice is a novel that will grip you in a vise of suspense that won't let go until the very last moment...when a shocking turn of events changes everything and demonstrates--truly--what love and sacrifice are all about.

EXCERPT
Elise Groneman stares out the window, stomach roiling. What she has is like stage fright. She gets it every night, before she ventures out of her tiny Rogers Park studio apartment on Chicago’s far north side. It’s always been amazing to her that just a few minutes’ walk to the north is the suburb of Evanston and a different world; there, the streets are tree-lined and clean, the homes palatial, the condos upscale, the restaurants grand, and the stores exclusive. Affluence and culture preside. Yet here, on Greenview Street, one encounters abject poverty, crime, the detritus of urban desperation: tiny brightly-colored baggies, fast food wrappers, condoms, empty alcohol bottles, even pieces of clothing. The sidewalks are cracked, the grassy areas choked with weeds and garbage. Here in Rogers Park, the normal folks―the ones who travel on the el to work downtown every morning―stay inside, so as not to mingle with people like Elise, or the man outside her window right now, who’s screaming, “What the fuck do I care what you do, bitch? It ain’t no skin off my ass.” Elise glances out and sees the man is alone. A boy cruises by on a bicycle that’s too small for him. The bike is stolen; either that, or he’s a runner for some small time dealer, delivering and making collections. Sometimes, there aren’t many options for moving up the ladder.

But this neighborhood is all Elise can afford, and, unless she picks up more clientele soon, she may even be crowded out of this hovel she begrudgingly calls home. Once, she shared the place with someone else, but those days, for better or worse, are long behind her.

Elise moves to the window, attempting to obliterate memory by the simple act of staring outside. Dusk has fallen and the sky belies the earthbound life before her. The sun is setting, the sky deep violet, filtering down to tangerine and pink near the horizon. If she keeps her eyes trained on the riot of color and shape to the east, she can almost forget where she is.

But the denizens of Greenview Street make sure she stays reminded. They stroll the night in an attempt to escape the heat, the hot, moist air pressing in, smothering. They call to one another, using words she had barely heard, let alone used, back in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where she had grown up: nigga, motherfucka, homey. Fuck used as an adjective, verb, and ejaculation (but rarely, ironically, utilized in a sexual context). Snatches of music filter out from apartment windows. Cruising vehicles pass by, bass thumping hard enough to cause the glass in her windows to vibrate. She has picked up names of artists like Bow Wow, Def Soul, and Trick Daddy as she walks the streets. Elise puts a hand to the screen, testing the air. Will there ever be a breeze again? She wonders if her neighbors would recognize any of the names attached to the music she loves, names like Vivaldi, Smetana, Bach. Other music fills the street: arguments and professions of love shouted with equal force. Headlights illuminate the darkening night, which is also lit by the flare of a match here, neon there, and sodium vapor overall. The world glows orange, filling up not only the streets of the city, but the sky, blotting out the stars.

East of her churn the cold waters of Lake Michigan, and Elise imagines its foam-flecked waves lapping at the shores. She’d like to pad down to the beach at the end of Birchwood Street, kick off her sandals and run across the sand and into the water, its cold obliterating and refreshing. She wishes she had the freedom, but east is not her path. Her way lies south, to Howard Street, purveyor of pawnshops and prostitution.

Her destination.

Elise turns to survey her cramped apartment. Near the ceiling, industrial green paint peels from the walls to reveal other coats of grimy paint no color describes. Metal-frame twin bed, sheets twisted and gray, damp from sweat and humidity. Next to that, Salvation Army-issue scarred oak table, small, with the remains of this night’s meal, a few apple peelings, a knife, and a glass half filled with pale tea, darkening in the dying light.

It’s a place no one would ever call home. Elise’s apartment is utilitarian, a place to work, to sleep, to eat. It’s little more than shelter.

The only sign of human habitation is her work: huge canvases mounted on easels, bits of heavy paper taped to her drawing board. Much of her work is done in charcoal and pencil, but the palette of grays and black remain constant, whether it’s a sketch or a completed painting. Her subject matter, too, is always the same, although the variety of choices she has to explore is endless. Elise likes to draw intensely detailed renderings of crime and accident scenes, aping the cold, clinical detachment one might find in a book of crime scene photographs. Here is a woman, slumped beside a corduroy recliner, a gunshot ripping away half of her head (the blood black in Elise’s rendering), beside her, a half-eaten chicken leg and the Tempo section of the Chicago Tribune, folded neatly and splattered with her gore. There’s a man lying beside a highway, the cars a fast-moving blurred river. His head has been severed from his body. On the wall she has masking-taped a nightmare in quick, staccato slashes: a young woman strangled and left to lie in the pristine environment of an upscale public washroom, clean, shiny ceramic tile, untarnished metal stalls. Another woman, looking bored, checks her lipstick in the mirror. Near Elise’s floor is a small, intricately detailed drawing done in charcoal: two lovers lie in a bed of gore, the aftermath―one presumes―of discovery of their union by a jealous lover. The woman has a sheet discreetly covering her up to the neck. The man lies splayed out in a paroxysm of agony. And why not? His offending penis has been slashed from his body. Is that it on the floor beside the bed, a smudge of black, nearly shapeless?

Where is all the color? Elise herself wonders as she dresses for the evening. Color has been leached out of her world; it is getting increasingly difficult to be able to remember what color was like and thus, increasingly difficult to duplicate its varied hues on paper or canvas. Color, it seems, is but a hazy memory out of her past.

Enough of art analysis, she thinks. It’s her days she has designated to her art. Nighttime is when she prepares for her other job, the occupation that keeps a roof over her head. The job which perhaps is responsible for stealing the color from her vision.

Enough! Enough! Enough! she thinks. Put the introspection behind you. It’s time now, time to become a creature of the night, an animal doing what it must to provide its own sustenance.

She rummages in the apartment’s lone closet, pulling out one of her “uniforms,” clothing that helps identify her occupation as much a mechanic’s jumpsuit, or a waitress’s ruffled apron and polyester dress.

Tonight, she dons a short black skirt bisected by a wide zipper ending in a big silver loop. Over her head, she pulls a white T-shirt, tying it just above her waist. In combination with the low-riding skirt, it perfectly frames her navel. Elise pulls the skin apart and plucks out a piece of lint. She completes her ensemble with dark seamed stockings and spike heels. These are the tools of the trade as much as the brushes, sticks of charcoal, and pencils littering her space.

Elise flips back her long whiskey-colored hair, and leans close to the mirror. She lines her lips with a shade of brown, then fills in with glossy crimson. Cheapens her green eyes with thick black kohl. Elise pulls her hair back, away from her damp neck, and up, pinning it all together with a silver barrette adorned with the smiling face of a skull. Pentagram earrings. Tonight a witch, creature of the night.

Then she turns, hand on doorknob. The night awaits: exhaust fumes, traffic, the chirping of cicadas.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

BIG LOVE Wins the Gold!



The Florida Authors & Publishers Association (FAPA) recently awarded Big Love its highest honor: the President's Book Award Winner for Romance for 2016 (Gold medal). I'm so honored and thrilled that this book, very near and dear to my heart, was singled out for the distinction. 

Books were selected by a panel of sixty five judges, which included educators, librarians, and publishing professionals. Go to the website to see all the winners. And congrats to my fellow honorees!

BLURB
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay.

But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men. And a new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth himself is starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup. The last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.

As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.


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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Win an Audiobook of BIG LOVE!

Big Love is now out on audiobook! And here's your chance to win a FREE copy!

UPDATE: And we have a winner! Timmy Simms...I'll be in touch! Congrats and enjoy!

Simply leave a comment below (with a way to get in touch with you if you win) and I will draw a winner from all comments on Friday August 5.


BLURB
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay.

But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men. And a new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth himself is starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup. The last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.

As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.



Big Love is narrated by the amazing Michael Pauley.







Tuesday, August 2, 2016

NEW RELEASE! Stranded with Desire



My collaboration with the amazing author Vivien Dean is now available from Dreamspinner Press and Amazon! Stranded with Desire is what's called a 'category romance' which means it uses familiar, "Harlequin-esque" tropes, except ours has a gay twist!

Hope you'll pick up a copy!

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BLURB
When their plane crashed, their desire took flight.

CEO Maine Braxton and his invaluable assistant, Colby, don’t realize they share a deep secret: they’re in love—with each other. That secret may have never come to light but for a terrifying plane crash in the Cascade Mountains that changes everything.

In a struggle for survival, the two men brave bears, storms, and a life-threatening flood to make it out of the wilderness alive. The proximity to death makes them realize the importance of love over propriety. Confessions emerge. Passions ignite. They escape the wilds renewed and openly in love.

When they return to civilization, though, forces are already plotting to snuff out their short-lived romance and ruin everything both have worked so hard to achieve.

EXCERPT
Colby LaSalle never dreamed his life would end in a plane crash over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. But here he was, whispering fevered petitions to the Lord as the plane screamed, plunging downward… faster, faster.

Out the windows, all he could see was white. And the only outcome he could imagine was that once that white cleared, the last thing he’d take in would be towering pine trees and the cold side of a mountain hurtling toward him. It was almost too horrific to comprehend.

In those few moments, as Colby braced himself in his seat, head down near his knees, he found himself thinking what a loss this was. The man across from him, his boss, Maine Braxton, would never know the most important thing about Colby. And that thing was not his proficiency as an administrative assistant, keeping Maine on track and on schedule in all his business affairs, but that Colby was passionately—and secretly—in love with him. With all his heart and soul.

That fact, and the unspoken words that hid it, seemed tragic to Colby, maybe even more tragic than the life he was about to lose. What kind of life, Colby wondered, did you really have if you’d never truly loved and been loved in return?

Colby, at twenty-eight, had never been in love before. And now it looked as though he would never have the chance to act on his desire, on that feeling that made his heart flutter whenever Maine walked by his desk. Was love like a tree falling in the forest? If the object of that love never knew of it, did it really exist?

Colby looked up for a moment, maybe to have a final look at Maine, but was distracted by the view through the cockpit window of the six-seater plane they were traveling in—a Beechcraft Bonanza. The opaque fog of white cleared for a moment, and Colby could see, to his horror, that his imagination was correct.

They were hurtling toward the side of a mountain. The view was surreal. Shock kept him from thinking it was anything other than a very vivid nightmare.

He then looked over at Maine and saw he had slid from his seat to the floor. The strong, powerful man cowered there, hands over his head. His lips moved in what Colby could only assume was silent prayer.

Colby longed to slide over, to cover Maine with his own body and shield him from the impact, but he was paralyzed, a butterfly pinned to a board, and could only add his own whispered prayers to those of his boss.

“Please, God, help us get out of this alive. Let Maine know how very much I love him. Give me that chance.”

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ORIENTATION Gets Reincarnated at Wilde City Press!


With its brand new edition and brand new cover (releasing just last week on July 21), I thought I'd share a sample from my reincarnation love story, Orientation, which won the EPIC eBook Award in 2009 as the Best GLBT Novel of the Year. This excerpt takes place at Christmas, 1983. Get the Kleenex ready....



BLURB
Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night.

Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there's more...Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn't know about in Keith and Robert's life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.

As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert's younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there's only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert's destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.

There's a murder attempt...salvation...redemption...and a new love is born...

EXCERPT
CHRISTMAS NIGHT WAS memorable for Robert, if only because it was the night the one great love of his young life was taken, stolen away by a disease he could never have imagined just a few years beforeThe night was also memorable because there was a kind of Christmas miracle, even if it lasted only a few moments. Keith came back to him. His Keith, the one who could make him laugh and make him feel “like a million bucks.” For the briefest of moments, the real Keith returned, smiling and making of his death mask face a hint of what had been there before: a handsome, distinguished man whose cheeks were no longer sunken and hollow, whose green irises were rimmed in yellow no more, and whose smile could light up a room.
Maybe seeing the old Keith, handsome, devilish, strong jawed from his Mediterranean heritage, was just a figment of Robert’s imagination, something he wished for so hard it came true. But the lucidity that came late that Christmas night was not his imagination. Something had clicked in Keith’s fevered brain and for just an instant, he came back.
            But it was only to say goodbye.
            Robert had spent the long afternoon cooking. He knew it was pointless. Keith, in his best moments, could only keep things like Jell-o and protein drinks down, and Robert had no appetite himself. But in spite of a decided lack of hunger around the Harris/Jafari household, Robert had made quite a testament to culinary expertise in the marble and glass kitchen. The counters were crammed with cutting boards where Robert had used his Wusthof cutlery to prep a garden of fresh herbs, mincing parsley, sage, basil, and thyme into stacks of fine green confetti. He cut garlic into translucent slices. Halved lemons lined up in an orderly row beneath the windowsill, waiting to release their juices. And there, near the sink, a twelve-pound goose waited for Robert’s touch, ready to have its skin loosened and lifted and for him to infuse it with chopped herbs, to stuff its cavity with lemons and whole garlic cloves, and, finally, to be buttered and rubbed lovingly with extra-virgin olive oil and trussed. It would spend the rest of the day basking in the heat of an oven, religiously basted every forty minutes. Robert had made oyster stuffing, rich with fresh-from-the-sea briny juices, sage, and fennel sausage. He had shorn the bottoms off artichokes, trimmed their leaves, and stuffed them with a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In the sink, a mound of Yukon gold potatoes awaited peeling. Brussels sprouts needed to be cleaned, steamed, and tossed in butter, lemon juice, and garlic.
            And when the kitchen windows fogged with steam from bubbling pots and the whole first floor of the penthouse was redolent with roasting bird, Robert went into the little powder room off the kitchen and threw up. He sat there by the toilet afterwards, gasping, and wiping angrily at his mouth and nose with Kleenex that left shreds on his stubbled face. He started to sob, the tears coming easily, hating himself for being such a coward, for spending all this time, all this money, to prepare this glorious yuletide feast no one would ever eat. He slapped his own face, punishing himself for being so stupid, stupid, stupid. Who was he trying to kid? Did making a Christmas goose with all the trimmings wipe out a year of love, passion, and happiness? Did all the cooking, decorating, and wrapping of presents put a different face on Death, who paced the penthouse, features furrowed, waiting to take his own Christmas present, which lay, just inches away from “delivery” on sweat-soaked Egyptian cotton sheets?
            Why couldn’t he accept what was happening? It was over. It was only a flame that had flared and then was snuffed out. He forced himself up, gripping the little pedestal sink, and splashed cold water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror above the sink, hating the vibrant, rosy glow in his cheeks, his fine, small-pored skin, twinkling blue eyes that betrayed not a hint of his exhaustion and despair, and his shining blond hair, in ringlets because of the kitchen humidity.
            Why did Keith have to die?
            Why did Robert have to live?
            He closed his eyes and went into the kitchen, ready to feed the fabulous food to the garbage disposal. The work, just like the preparation of the meal, would take his mind off things.
            And then he heard Keith’s voice, watery, weak, a shadow of its former self, call out. If the garbage disposal had been on, he wouldn’t have heard it. But the sound of his own name coming from his lover’s lips filled him with a kind of insane joy and optimism. The irrational part of him wanted to take it as a sign, a U-turn in the road toward death.
            His Keith was getting better! Getting better in spite of the fact that all these other men with AIDS were dying quick, painful deaths. Keith would be the exception to the rule. He always had been. A sob caught in Robert’s throat and he hurried toward the stairs.
            “Robert?” Keith’s voice sounded again, querulous and weak as a kitten. But it was Keith and he was calling for him.
            Robert rushed up the spiral staircase, tripping once, a startled laugh escaping from his lips. Who knew? This AIDS thing was still so new. Who was to say there weren’t people out there who could beat it? People with imagination and fortitude.
            People like Keith.
            Robert hesitated outside the bedroom door. Inside, it was quiet, and he dreaded going in there and finding Keith on the bed asleep, a sheen of sweat clinging to his sunken cheeks, his breath phlegmy and labored. What if Keith’s call was just a momentary peek through the twin curtains of fever and consciousness? Or worse, the product of his own overly-hopeful imagination?
            What would be, would be (hadn’t some virginal blonde even once sung about it?). Robert steeled himself: deep, cleansing breath, let it out slowly. And entered the room.
            Keith was awake. His face looked even more drawn and tired—the color of ash. Robert would have said it was impossible for him to look any sicker even this morning, but now he did. In the air, despite the cinnamon and vanilla scented candles in the room, was the smell of sickness and shit.
            But oh, Lord! Keith was looking at him. Looking right at Robert. And he was seeing him! For the first time in forever, their gazes met and connected. Robert approached the bed warily, as if a sudden movement would send Keith plummeting back into unconsciousness.
            “Honey? Can you hear me?” Robert stood, wringing his hands, heart fluttering, beating against his ribs.
            “Of course.” Keith’s voice was a croak. Gone were the bass notes that had made him sound so sexy and assured. Keith reached a bruised hand out over the covers and patted the bed. “Would you sit next to me?”
            “Oh, of course!” Robert took two steps and weighed down the bed, reaching out to brush a strand of hair off Keith’s forehead, biting his own lip at the heat radiating off Keith’s flesh. “I’m so happy you’re awake.”
            Keith swallowed. The swallow took a long time and looked as if it took all of the sick man’s effort. He let out a weak sigh and turned his head. He looked up at Robert and managed a wan smile. Robert closed his eyes and gently laid his head atop Keith’s.
            And then Keith began to talk, his old voice suddenly returned, strong and sure. “I have just a few things to say, Robert. And I need you to shut up and listen. No interruptions. The first thing I want to say is ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m so sorry I couldn’t be a bigger part of things for this, our first Christmas together, but that decision was taken from me and it doesn’t look like Mr. Claus is seeing fit to give me a chance to make it up to you.
“The second thing I want to say is that I love you with all my heart. I searched forty some odd years for you, for what I’ve always dreamed of, and what I thought I couldn’t have when you dropped, like a gift, like an angel, into my life last winter. You were what I hunted for all my life: a family. You are my family. Don’t ever forget how precious that is.
“The third thing I want to say is that you’re an idiot, running around, burying your head in the sand and trying to make a Christmas that neither of us has the capacity to enjoy. And last, I love you for that. I love you so much for trying…for hoping against all odds that this moment would come and I would let you know how much I appreciate you. For hoping that we might share one final kiss before I have to go. And my love, I do have to go.
But I couldn’t leave without you hearing these four words. You. Are. My. Family.”

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