Thursday, February 18, 2010

My EPIC Award 2010 Nominees

So I'm off to New Orleans in a couple of weeks for EPICon 2010 and I'm happy to report that two of my Amber Quill books are finalists for awards. VGL Male Seeks Same is up for Best Contemporary Romance and Dead End Street is up for Best Young Adult Fiction.

I'm really proud to be among the other finalists. See the complete list of finalists here. And I am so looking forward to getting to New Orleans (where I haven't been in more than 10 years) and reconnecting with old friends and peers and making new ones.

Today, I'd like to share with you a little bit about each of the nominated books.

VGL Male Seeks Same


Poor Ethan Schwartz. It seems like he will never find that special someone. At age 42, he’s still alone, his bed still empty, and his 42-inch HDTV overworked. He’s tried the bars and other places where gay men are supposed to find one another, but for Ethan, it never works out. He wonders if it ever will. Should he get a cat?

But all of that is about to change. At work, Ethan hears about a website that promises to deliver more than just the tawdry hook-ups associated with so many other sites. Ethan wants romance, and although he’s always been a little shy about the whole cyber-dating scene, he figures he has nothing to lose.

Well, maybe he does have something to lose: his self-esteem. After he posts his profile, he gets zero responses. But Ethan realizes one thing about the cyberworld that isn’t true in the real one: Online, Ethan can be anyone he wants to be.

And a new persona is born. The new Ethan is handsome (with someone else’s pic) and the sudden recipient of dozens of online come-ons. What Ethan doesn't count on, however, is finding—among the propositions and the flattery—his one true love. Not just a gorgeous man, but one who suits him in almost every way.

How does Ethan turn his budding cyber love into a real one? And can he hang on to his mystery suitor without turning him off with his deception? 

...For years, Ethan had observed the hoopla surrounding the Internet and its supposed ease of getting people together for sex, romance, half price books, and even cut-rate psychotherapy, but never thought he would traverse its well-traveled highways to meet a man. Somehow, it all seemed too cheap and easy, almost tawdry. Ethan wanted to meet a man through a mutual friend, at a dinner party perhaps, where the assembled group (all attractive upwardly mobile professionals and artists) were enjoying paella and whimsical cocktails like sidecars or Tom Collins. Their eyes would meet over the olive tapenade and they would exchange phone numbers while waiting for the host to bring them their coats.  Or, even better, they would meet in a bookstore (no, not that kind!) where they would both be reaching for a copy of the latest David Sedaris at the exact same moment and then would laugh and insist that the other take the shelf copy first. Or maybe he would discover his intended as he rode alone on Lake Michigan’s bike trail and his future beloved would help him when he got a flat tire. It was a story they would tell their grandchildren.

“Yeah, right.” Ethan blew out a big sigh and hit the TAB key to take him to the first box needing to be filled in. “That’s not the way it happens these days. These days, guys meet online. Period. Jane Austen would be appalled.”

Filling out the application to be a member of was not all that different than filling out a job application. Ethan shook his head. That wasn’t true at all! Filling out a job application was much easier. At least a job application didn’t ask you about your most intimate physical dimensions, or if you considered yourself a top or a bottom, or “versatile.” A job application would never ask if you considered yourself to have a swimmer’s build, or if there was “more of you to love.” A job application would never ask if you “partied,” although they might test to see if you did, if they became serious about hiring you. Filling out paperwork for a job would never require you to tell, in great detail, what you were looking for in a potential mate.

But Ethan supposed all this information, all this nosy prying, was for a good purpose, which was to match you up with other like-minded souls. And Ethan actually adored the idea of that. He was not one of these middle-aged men he saw wandering around Halsted Street dressed in head-to-toe Abercrombie and Fitch, hoping to find a “boy” of no more than thirty years or so.

Ethan wanted a companion, someone he could relate to, someone with a bit of a shared history. He wondered if this route could ever deliver such a bird.

He wondered if such a bird even existed, or if it had gone the way of the dodo.  
Finally, Ethan got through the laborious screens of questions and was ready to hit “submit.” He was even pleased with the photo of himself he had decided on using, dredged up from some of his event publicity files from his work folder. In the photo, taken just a few months ago, he was shown smiling with the director of the latest offering at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He had simply cropped out the grinning, bespectled director and voila, he had himself a halfway-decent headshot. At least the picture was honest and, in its way, flattering. He hoped at least one or two men out there in cyberland would be inclined to agree.

He hit “submit,” wondering as he did if the obvious sexual connotations of the word had occurred to anyone else. 

As soon as a “thank you” message popped up, telling Ethan his message was in the queue awaiting approval (which would take eight to twelve hours), sweat began to pop up on his brow. “Good Lord,” he wondered aloud, “what did I just do?”

He thought of the poor folks whose forays into dating sites and social networks like MySpace or Friendster ended up on Dr. Phil, or worse, Judge Judy, and the woe those people experienced when they exposed their more intimate sides to the world. They were idiots, as Judy and Phil would say, with no more sense than God gave a grasshopper. His little adventure could end up coming back to haunt him. What, for example, would Bubbles have to say about his profile once it was approved and active? Would he snicker behind manicured nails and call over the entire office to gape and guffaw at his photo and his predilection for forties noir classics? And that kind of information was the least of his worries—he had divulged to the entire world his sexual likes and dislikes, for cryin’ out loud.

He got up and got a Coke Zero and tried to reassure himself by saying that he was just flattering himself. Everyone was online these days and the truth was no one would really even care about him or his little profile. All he needed to really worry about was that some imagined man out there, reasonably good looking, well-read, and with a quirky sense of humor, would pause long enough at his profile to send him a message... 


The old house at the end of a dead-end street is more of a dead end than anyone realizes... 

They are five misfit kids who have banded together in their small Ohio River town. Over the years, they had organized various clubs, and now they've formed the Halloween Horror Club. The premise is simple: each week, each teen spins a horrifying tale, and at the end of five weeks, the scariest story wins a prize. The twist: the stories have to be told in the infamous and abandoned Tuttle house, where, fifteen years earlier, nearly an entire family had been murdered in their beds.

The idea of the club seems like a good one, until the kids begin to realize they may not be alone in the Tuttle house, which backs up against the woods. There seems to be someone—or something—watching them. Is it Paul Tuttle, the son who, while still in his teens, disappeared the night his parents and sister were killed? Or is it someone even more sinister? 
With each story (each a completed short, original horror tale that stands on its own), the tension mounts...and so does the anger of the house's mysterious inhabitant. He is enraged at having his space violated, and his rage could mean a real dead end for those who dare to invade his home...


...Marlene turned to Peter. “What do you mean? Some sort of club to go see horror movies? We already do that.” Marlene was the quietest of the group, and they all acknowledged she was the smartest, too.

Peter rolled his eyes. “No, I have something a little more imaginative in mind.” He paused and waited until Roy looked away from the computer monitor. Peter bit his lower lip, then continued. “I was thinking of this club as a limited time thing.” He let his statement hang in the air, hoping he was building an appropriate sense of suspense and danger. He hung back from the group gathered around the computer, hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts.

“Yeah. Like the McPig sandwiches at McDonald’s.” David snorted with laughter at his own joke. 

“C’mon, Dave. Let him finish.” Roy spoke up, but his words weren’t very convincing. His high-pitched voice made him sound like a seven-year-old boy, or worse, a girl.

“Thanks,” Peter said. “Anyway, what I was thinking was this. It’s only six weeks until Halloween, right?” 

Erin nodded and flung a mass of her dark brown hair over one shoulder. She gave Peter the full attention of her eyes, which were so dark they appeared bottomless. Erin was the prettiest of the group, and what made her especially so was the fact that she had no idea this was the case.

Peter continued. “Well, what we could do is meet officially once a week. At that time, one of us would be responsible for making up a scary story—you know, something really gross or bloody—for that week. Let’s see if we can come up with something more terrifying than any movie, something that would make some of us afraid to turn off the lights at bedtime. When we’re all done, we’ll take a vote, and whoever gets the most votes gets to decide how we’ll spend Halloween.”

“Boring!” David said. “Can we move on to other business, like putting some other music on? This sucks.” David reached out toward the computer, and Marlene slapped his hand away.

Her eyes were bright with interest. “I think the idea has potential.” 

“I didn’t tell you guys the best part, though.” Peter’s face warmed with excitement. “We’ll meet at the Tuttle house each week. That’s where we’ll tell our stories.” Peter’s smile died as he surveyed the reaction on his friends’ faces.

The group got quiet. Even the music seemed to become softer, as if an unseen hand, pale, veiny, and covered with sores, was turning down the sound. 
“The Tuttle house?” Erin whispered, her dark eyes alive with fear. 

“Isn’t that where all those murders happened? That family?” Roy’s voice cracked.  
“Supposedly,” David spoke up. “That was a long time ago, before any of us were even born. I think it’s just a rotting house up on the hill. Nothing to be scared of.”

“Then we can do it?” Peter sounded hopeful.  
“I haven’t got a problem,” David said. 

“I don’t know.” Erin twisted a strand of her dark hair. “What if someone catches us?” 

“Who’s going to catch us?” Marlene spoke up. “The house is at the end of a dead-end road. There aren’t even any neighbors until you get to the Washington’s, and they’re at least a football field or two away. If we’re quiet, I don’t think anyone would pay any attention. It’s just an empty, old house, really.”

Peter looked around at them all. “‘An empty old house’? Maybe. That’s part of why I want us to meet there. To see just how empty it is. I’ve heard things, lots of things about the Tuttle house. I know you guys have, too.” His gaze met Erin’s, whose unblemished and perfect skin had gone pale. “It may not be as empty as some people’d like to think.” He grinned. “Or hope...” 

BUY VGL Male Seeks Same

BUY Dead End Street

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