Friday, June 5, 2020

Flashback Friday: BLOOD SACRIFICE, Vampires, Art, and Love...oh my!



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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Thursday, June 4, 2020

NEW and NOTABLE: Cutting Cords by Mickie B. Ashling


Title: Cutting Cords
Series: Cutting Cords Series, Book One
Author: Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher: Self-Published
Release Date: 6/2/20
Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 63,525
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, bisexual, hurt-comfort, coming out, disability, cutting

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Synopsis


Sloan Driscoll is a talented graphic artist but compared to his father and younger brother—all star athletes—he’s never measured up. A lifetime of insecurity leads him down dark paths.

His childhood friend, Cole Fujiwara, a former major league pitcher, embodies all of Sloan’s hidden aspirations. Cole is physically fit, attractive, intelligent, and successful. Seemingly perfect.

When Sloan shows up on Cole’s NYC doorstep needing a place to stay, their reunion is anything but simple. Sloan has always been drawn to Cole, but now, even though there’s a girlfriend on the periphery, the attraction seems mutual.

One night, inhibitions slip away. But both men are hiding a multitude of secrets. Salvation could be found within each other’s arms. But only if they let it.

Cutting Cords is the first book in the Cutting Cords Series previously published by Dreamspinner Press. This series must be read in order and all four titles will be available by September 2020. HEA guaranteed at series end.


Content Warning: contains body image issues, drug use, cutting, and some BDSM elements.

Excerpt


Cutting Cords
Mickie B. Ashling © 2020
All Rights Reserved

The doors of the plane were shut; the engines revved and ready to go. I leaned back and plugged in my earphones, increasing the volume so I could hear nothing but Queen blaring out Bohemian Rhapsody. I loved their music, stage presence, and style. One summer, I even made the attempt to dress and talk like Freddie Mercury. It wasn’t hard, since we had the same body type, not one ounce of fat anywhere. My little game was met with disapproval, so my outrageous persona went back into a compartment in my brain, along with all the other shocking thoughts that resided there.

The plane finally took off, almost in sync with Freddie’s falsetto blaring in my ears. I removed my earplugs and unfastened the seat belt when the captain turned off the sign. It was time to go to the restroom and take care of business.

The light in the tiny bathroom cast a yellowish shade on my normally pale face. I stared at the mirror, trying to see if I looked any different since my haircut and my father’s attempts to make me look respectable. Everything appeared the same; my hair was still a boring brown, my eyes an unremarkable shade of gray. My mouth was a bit too full and girly for Dad’s taste, but there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. I wondered how long it would take for my hair to grow out again. I hated the feel of cold air against my neck, although my tattoo was now clearly visible, the Queen logo, a testament to my devotion.

I started to strip, undoing the belt buckle and pushing down my jeans, past the ugly web of scars on my thighs. They were a constant reminder of my inner turmoil, a grim display in varying shades of hair-raising red. I stepped out of my pants and boxers simultaneously, leaving them bunched at my feet. Next off were the tight white briefs that had served its purpose—holding the sandwich bag with my stash in its hiding place near my crotch. I dumped the briefs into the wastebasket and pulled my jeans and boxers back on.

I opened the plastic baggy and inhaled the pungent aroma of the high-grade weed, wishing I had the guts to light up, but I knew my impulse would activate the smoke alarms and they’d be pounding on the door within minutes. So I popped a Xanax instead, a poor substitute, but certainly better than nothing.

I spent the rest of the flight in a hazy fog. Thanks to my age and the money in my pocket, I was able to buy a few drinks to add to my drug-induced high. I passed on the food, shaking my head at the flight attendant, but asked for more peanuts instead. I could almost hear my father’s voice telling me to eat and not skip meals or I’d never gain weight, but I wasn’t buying into his plan anymore. No amount of sustenance had ever worked to give me the kind of body I craved, so any time I was on my own, I ate whatever I wanted.

I knew I wasn’t in California anymore as soon as the cabbie pulled up to the curb and looked me over suspiciously. “Need a ride?”

He was a brightly turbaned Indian who spoke passable English but seemed to have left his manners on another continent. I wasn’t sure if it was the late hour or his job, but good cheer was in short supply right then. I was expected to haul my gear into the cab on my own. Cussing under my breath, I hefted the duffel with all my worldly possessions onto the seat beside me. “Can I smoke in here?” I asked as soon as we got going.

“Sure thing, buddy.”

Pleasantly surprised, I pulled out the joint I’d rolled in the airport restroom and lit up, inhaling deeply, letting the smoke fill my lungs. The cabbie lifted an eyebrow as soon as he smelled the weed. In an instant, his demeanor changed, and he respectfully asked, “Would you be willing to share?”

I smirked and passed the joint through the opening in the glass.

He took a huge hit, bobbing his head in appreciation. “Good stuff, buddy.”

“It better be for what it cost.”

“Where are we headed?” the cabbie asked.

“Chelsea.”

“Okay.”

It was almost eleven by the time we stopped in front of Cole’s apartment building, and after I handed over my money, I waited to see if the driver would help me with my bag since I’d shared my dope. Stupid thought. He sat there and checked his log sheet.

Fucking asshole. I didn’t tip him.

I dragged my shit out of the cab and waited for the doorman to let me in. Apparently he’d gotten word of my arrival, and he actually helped me place my bag in the elevator and told me the apartment was on the tenth floor. When I arrived at my destination, I stabbed at the doorbell for several minutes before the door was yanked open by a guy who appeared ready to strangle me.

“Will you ease off the fucking bell already?”

“Hey, I didn’t know if you were asleep or what.”

“Well, I’m wide awake now.”

“Sorry. I’m looking for Cole Fujiwara.”

“You found him,” he replied warily. “Sloan?”

“The one and only.”

“Wow. You’ve grown. When’d you get so tall?”

And when the fuck did you get so hot?

“Probably when you lost all the weight,” I replied out loud, taking a really good look at him. He was nothing like I remembered. The chubby kid with thick glasses who teased me and told me I threw like a girl was gone. In his place was a young Johnny Depp look-alike with cut-glass cheekbones and bone-straight black hair sliding over his forehead. The specs were gone as well, probably replaced by contacts, but those indigo eyes were exactly the same, courtesy of his Irish mother, and I was rooted to the spot.

“Are we going to stand here all night?”

I snapped out of my trance even as the blood rushed to my cheeks. Caught in the act of staring again, I was flustered and behaving like a total dweeb. Any hope of making a good first impression was shattered by my momentary lapse in judgment. “Sorry.”

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Meet the Author

MICKIE B. ASHLING is the pseudonym of a multi-published author who resides in a suburb outside Chicago. She is a product of her upbringing in various cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West.

Since 2009, Mickie has written several dozen novels in the LGBTQ+ genre—which have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Lately, her muse has been nudging her in a different direction, and she’s learned through past experience to pay attention to creative sparks that show up unexpectedly. Her pen name is a part of her now, and will travel along on this exciting new journey, wherever it might lead.

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