Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I'm Glad She Wants to Stay Awake

Last night, I had the pleasure of doing a reading at Seattle's historic Rendezvous in Belltown. It was a lot of fun. The organizers asked me, as part of my reading, to respond to a prompt, which was, "I'm glad she wants to stay awake, but I don't know. Is that really the best way?" This is what I wrote (and read): 

"I'm glad she wants to stay awake, but I don't know. Is that really the best way?"

“What are you talking about?” Alan rolls over in bed to regard me with a quizzical stare.

“She should sleep. She should rest,” I tell him.

“Who?”

“Oh come on, you know who. My mother.”

Alan doesn’t say anything. I can feel him staring at me in the dark and I don’t know if I can bear to meet his gaze, to see the sympathy in his eyes. Instead, I look up at the ceiling and repeat, “I’m glad she wants to stay awake.” I feel his hand, warm on my chest, put there in an attempt to comfort. I want to twist my chest upward to knock it off. “She wants to stay awake,” I say again, a little ticked.

We’re both tired. Not just from the funeral this morning, but from witnessing the long-range war that goes by the ubiquitous name—cancer. I can think of nothing else but Mom in that room at the hospice, afraid that if she succumbed to her weariness and allowed her eyes to close, she’d never open them again.

I change the tense of my statement, turning my head at last to look at this person next to me, this person who’s meant to be comfort. “She wanted to stay awake.”

“I know, sweetheart. I know.”

The tears, which have been threatening to come for a very long time, but always delayed, spring up, trickle down. “I wanted her to stay awake. But she didn’t. And I never got the chance to say ‘I love you.’

Alan snuggles closer, rests his head on my chest. “You didn’t have to say the words. She knew.”

“She went to sleep,” I pronounce, thinking that Alan, who knew me better than anyone, was right.

“And it was the best way,” he says softly.

I pull him close. “Let’s sleep.”

We lay silent for a long time, until I hear the deepening of Alan’s breath beside me. I nudge him, poking my elbow gently into his side. His breathing changes and I know he’s awake again.

“What?” he wonders.

“I love you,” I say.

(Photo courtesy of David Warner)
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Monday, June 16, 2014

Cover Reveal: BASHED

Do you believe that real love never dies? 


That's the premise behind my July 14 release from Dreamspinner Press, Bashed. Bashed is a haunting blend of romance, suspense, and ghost story, wrapped up in a timely story that could have been ripped from today's headlines.

I'm happy to share the amazing cover by Aaron Anderson with you today. I think it's simply gorgeous, and, appropriately, haunting. What do you think?

BLURB
It should have been a perfect night out. Instead, Mark and Donald collide with tragedy when they leave their favorite night spot. That dark October night, three gay-bashers emerge from the gloom, armed with slurs, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat.

The hate crime leaves Donald lost and alone, clinging to the memory of the only man he ever loved. He is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by Mark and what might have been. Trapped in a limbo offering no closure, Donald can’t immediately accept the salvation his new neighbor, Walter, offers. Walter’s kindness and patience are qualities his sixteen-year-old nephew, Justin, understands well. Walter provides the only sense of family the boy’s ever known. But Justin holds a dark secret that threatens to tear Donald and Walter apart before their love even has a chance to blossom.

1st Edition published by MLR Press, March 2009.

PRE-ORDER BASHED FROM DREAMSPINNER PRESS (Wide release July 14, 2014)
In eBook
In Paperback


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Friday, June 13, 2014

Inspiration Can Be Inspiring Too

If, or hopefully when, you read my newest book, Dinner at Home, you’ll encounter Hank Mellinger, a homeless twenty-something who, when we first meet him, is staying at a Charity called Haven, where he gets room, board, and training in how to be a professional cook. Two similar charities exist in Seattle, where the book is set, Fare Start, which teaches cooking skills to the homeless, and YouthCare, which provides shelter, food, clothing, and vocational training for homeless youth, an astoundingly (or maybe not) large number of whom identify as LGBT.

I volunteer for YouthCare, cooking lunches and dinners once or twice a month with a group of my friends—we call ourselves the “It Gets Better” group. There’s not many things I do that are as satisfying, rewarding, and inspirational as this service. It warms my heart to know that the food I made with my own hands is feeding kids who may not have anything else to eat the rest of the day. Their happiness at seeing what we made that day can bring tears to my eyes.

My experience with YouthCare is part of the reason I love my character Hank, in Dinner at Home so much. He’s like the kids I feed: streetwise, tough on the outside, but vulnerable too. They’re really barely more than children and they’ve been forced to grow up too fast and have seen too much. Hank is no different.

Here’s a little excerpt that shows you what Hank is all about—tough guy outside, but all heart on the inside:

“You really want to feed people this crap?” Hank Mellinger snapped at his new boss. Lined up in the kitchen of Haven, a charity that housed and fed the homeless of Seattle and provided chef training for some of its residents, were several industrial-sized boxes of generic mac and cheese mix. Alongside the boxes were sticks of no-name margarine and boxes of powdered milk.

His boss, E.J. Porter, an African-American woman with her hair braided tightly to her scalp and oval-rimmed frameless glasses, shook her head as she took in her latest charge.

“Hank. We have to face reality here. Now, as much as I would love to serve people mac and cheese with real cheddar, cream, and maybe roasted red peppers, we just can’t afford that kind of stuff on the measly funds we get from the state and what donors kick in. Hell, honey, we might as well do a b├ęchamel and throw some lobster in too.” She patted his shoulder. “It’s a nice dream, sweetie. Now you need to get cookin’. Lunch is only a couple hours away and I still need you to chop and prep the salad.” She pointed to the sorry pile of heads of iceberg lettuce in the sink.

Hank shook his head. “So because people are poor, they have to eat this fucking shit? Why can’t we get some fresh vegetables? Is it that pricey? This stuff gives ‘em nothin’. Artery-clogging crap that might fill up their bellies, but doesn’t do a thing to keep ‘em healthy. Fuck.”

E.J. moved in close to Hank, so close he could feel her breath and maybe even a bit of her spittle on his face. She spoke softly, but there was an intensity, perhaps even a fury to her words. “Look, Hank, you just got here. I have been trying to run this place for the last nine years. You have no idea what I go through just to get the food we have to work with. You have no idea how grateful some of these people are for this ‘shit’ as you call it. It tastes pretty good when the last meal you had came out of a dumpster, if you had anything at all. We work with what we get. Some days it’s healthier fare than others, but all of it’s food. For hungry people. And you might not think that’s something, but it is.

“Now, you are just starting here. We gave you a roof over your head, food to eat, and we’re trying to help you find a career path as a chef. Haven may not be Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, but we will get you ready to work in a kitchen. We’ll give you knife skills, teach you how to make simple sauces, stocks, and soups, we’ll make a real cook out of you. Maybe not a chef, but a cook.

“Now you need to watch your language, watch your attitude, and get to work.” E.J. stormed away.

BUY
from Dreamspinner Press in ebook or in paperback
Amazon Kindle

If you want to know more about YouthCare (and maybe even donate), here’s a little more information:

YouthCare History

For 40 years, YouthCare has been a leader in providing effective services to Seattle’s homeless youth.

In 1974, a group of concerned citizens started a three-bed shelter for homeless and runaway youth, the first in the Western United States.  Since then, we have grown to become a community-based agency with six sites serving the greater Seattle area. During that time, we have led the way in creating effective, innovative programs for homeless young people:


  • In 1989, YouthCare created one of the first transitional living programs in the Northwest. Straley House now houses Catalyst, one of the first low-barrier housing programs for homeless youth in the region.
  • In 1998, YouthCare opened ISIS House, the first transitional living program in Washington State to focus on the unique needs of homeless LGBTQ youth.
  • In 2003, YouthCare was one of the first agencies nationwide to contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to house a shelter/case management program serving the specialized needs of refugee youth.
  • In May 2010, YouthCare partnered with the City of Seattle, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, and others to open the Bridge Program, the first residential recovery program in the Northwest for sexually exploited children. Today, the program operates as a full continuum of services for sexually exploited youth and  young adults, and includes dedicated beds in both emergency shelter and transitional living programs.


Contact

For general inquiries, including program information and donation options: info@youthcare.org or (206) 694-4500

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New and Notable: A Heart for Robbie by J.P. Barnaby

BLURB:
Waiting for someone else’s child to die so yours can live is the worst kind of Hell.

Celebrated Young Adult author Julian Holmes pits the heroic characters in his Black Heart series against all different kinds of monsters. But when a critical heart defect threatens his son’s life, he finds he has no champion. No amount of books, classes, or practice can prepare Julian for the fight to save his beautiful son’s life Suddenly there are hospitals, transplant lists, and the nightmare of insurance red tape to navigate. In the midst of his trouble, Julian meets Simon Phelps, the insurance coordinator for Robbie’s case. Simon lives so deep in the closet he might never find his way out, but he dreams of exactly what Julian has. Then one night, drunken need and desperation brings them together, and a new fight begins.

BUY LINKS – DREAMSPINNER PRESS:
EBook
Paperback

EXCERPT
“You want Daddy to tell you a story?”

The sweet boy snuggled down closer to his father, as if waiting to hear his story. Julian smiled, rubbing the unbandaged side of Robbie’s head with his thumb as he held the baby snug in his arms, oxygen tube in front of his rosy cheeks.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Julian felt Liam smile.

“I’ve probably had stories in my head since I was your age, only they didn’t start coming out until I was a little older and could talk. Once I was able to spell, that was it for me. So, let’s see, a story for my Robbie. Okay, once upon a time, there was a prince named, uhm, Bobby. Now, Bobby was out one day in the forest around the castle playing with one of his friends. The boys were hiding from each other, catching frogs, you know, things that boys do. Anyway, they happened across a robber. He must have been a foreigner, because he didn’t recognize Bobby as the prince over that land.” Robbie’s eyes fluttered closed, soothed by the sound of his father’s voice.

“The other boy ran, telling Bobby to come with him, but Bobby was a prince. No way would he give up his gold to some mere commoner. His father wouldn’t allow it. His father always protected him. Only this time, he didn’t. The robber took Bobby’s gold and put a blade into his chest. By the time the other boy brought help, Bobby was in bad shape.”

Julian stroked Robbie’s little cheek with his thumb.

“King… uhm… Cerulean, okay, don’t make fun, you don’t know that word yet,” Julian whispered to Robbie with a laugh and actually heard Liam roll his eyes from the little spot in the back of his mind. “Anyway, the king, well, he didn’t take any chances and rushed Bobby to Merlin, the greatest wizard in the land. He begged Merlin to help his son. Merlin put the boy on a table and examined him, muttering incantations under his breath. He touched the boy’s pierced chest and felt the coolness of his skin. He told the king that the only way to save his son was to cut out the heart of a dragon to make a very special potion for Bobby to drink. Only that would save the boy’s life.”

Robbie lay quiet in Julian’s arms, his breathing slow and rhythmic in sleep. Julian decided to continue, even if just for himself.

“And he did it, Robbie. That king went out and searched day and night to find a dragon. Finally, he did. He risked his own life to bring the heart back to the old wizard. Merlin used the heart to make a potion for the prince, and once he drank it, the wound in his chest closed up, and he was right as rain.”

He pulled Robbie a little higher on his chest, bringing his lips down to whisper in his son’s ear.

“I’ll find that dragon, buddy. I promise.”


ABOUT J.P. BARNABY
Award winning romance novelist, J. P. Barnaby has penned over a dozen books including the Working Boys series, the Little Boy Lost series, In the Absence of Monsters, and Aaron. As a bisexual woman, J.P. is a proud member of the GLBT community both online and in her small town on the outskirts of Chicago. A member of Mensa, she is described as brilliant but troubled, sweet but introverted, and talented but deviant. She spends her days writing software and her nights writing erotica, which is, of course, far more interesting. The spare time that she carves out between her career and her novels is spent reading about the concept of love, which, like some of her characters, she has never quite figured out for herself.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Note: This blog post originally appeared on The Novel Approach.

Food, Memories, and Love

It might just be me, but I believe one of the most powerful ways you can show someone you love them is through feeding them. Growing up, the maternal side of my family was Sicilian. And let me tell you, the Sicilians believe in three things: love, family, and food. You simply did not turn down food when you visited my relatives (and you always sat around the kitchen table when you visited, never the living room).

My mom, who passed away from cancer in 2007, was a product of her Italian roots. Her best food was the simple Sicilian peasant fare she grew up and learned to cook from the aunts and grandmother who raised her. One of her best recipes, and the one she was known for, was her spaghetti sauce and meatballs. To this day, I make her all-day-simmer sauce on lazy Sundays. The smell of it brings her memory back to me more powerfully than any photograph and, yes, that aroma often brings a tear to my eye.

I could not write my “romance with recipes” Dinner at Home, without including that recipe. I share it with you below. I also would like to share a little excerpt from the book, in which my main character, Ollie, remembers making meatballs with his own Italian mom. The excerpt reminds me of the special times I shared with my mother, almost always in the kitchen.

Ollie and Meatballs (an excerpt from Dinner at Home)

“Go ahead, you do it.”

Ollie looks up at his mother, her warm smile, her dark hair and green eyes as she stares down at the five-year-old, expectantly. 

“Like this?” Ollie asks and he upends the jug of milk over a couple of slices of white bread his mother has placed in the sink.

“Rub it in. Get the bread all nice and wet,” his mother says.

“Like it’s getting a bath?” Ollie asks.

His mother laughs. “Like it’s getting a bath.”

Once the bread is thoroughly wet, Ollie picks it up and holds it, dripping, over a bowl of equal parts ground beef, veal, and pork. 

“Now grind it all up,” his mother says. And Ollie squeezes the bread, squeezing and twisting it until it drops in damp crumbs to the meat.

“Very good.” His mom pats his head. “What comes next?”

“The eggs?”

“That’s right.” His mom hands him the first egg and Ollie awkwardly cracks it against the side of the glass bowl. Some of the white runs down the outside of the bowl. “That’s okay,” his mom says when he looks up at her, lower lip out and eyes wide. “You’ll get it right with this one.” And she hands him another egg.

He does, cracking the egg and opening it over the meat and bread mixture so the yolk breaks when it hits. He looks down at the mixture, then back to Mom. “What’s next?”

“You know what’s next.”

“Garlic?”

“Lots of garlic.” She has already chopped the cloves fine and she gestures for him to cup his hands. When he does so, she delivers the pungent smelling stuff into his palms and tells him to scatter it around.
They add dried basil, oregano, onion powder, and salt and pepper. “Now get your hands in there and mix it all up.” She rubs his back as he combines everything, giggling at the wet mushiness of the mixture. She giggles too.

“Now the best part!” Ollie says. “Meatballs.”

His mother pulls a chair from the kitchen table and sets little Ollie on it so he can work more easily. She rolls up her sleeves and says, “Let’s get to work.”

Ollie awakened from the dream with a smile. One of his favorite childhood memories was helping his Sicilian mother make her spaghetti sauce and meatballs every Sunday. He did it throughout his life. He could now make her simmer-all-day-thick, rich, and delicious sauce with his eyes closed. Even though he used all the same ingredients in all the same proportions, it never tasted quite the same. Good, but just not quite the same. There was no substitute for a mother’s love.

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs
(Serves 4-6)

1 29-oz. can tomato puree
1 12-oz. can tomato paste
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon each oregano, basil, and onion powder
2 handfuls grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (half a cup?)
7 cups water or 1-2 cups red wine with the remainder water (I usually use wine)

Note: Most all of the above ingredients can just be eyeballed. Mix everything in a big pot, add meatballs and pork and simmer for at least four hours. Highly recommended: brown some pork (ribs, chops, whatever’s cheap, a little less than a pound in the pan you’re going to cook the sauce in. Just caramelize it. Once it’s done, pull out, deglaze with a splash of red wine, and begin making your sauce.)

Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef (or beef and pork, or turkey)
1 egg
1 slice bread
¼ cup milk
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, onion powder, basil, oregano (just eyeball all of this)

Take a slice of bread, wet with milk, crumble into meat, and add seasonings and egg. Mix with hands, form into balls, brown in hot fry pan on stove in a little olive oil, and drop into the sauce.

Read another excerpt

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from Dreamspinner Press in ebook or in paperback
Amazon Kindle


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