Thursday, July 31, 2014

Split Personalities

Note: This post originally appeared at OnTopDownUnder Reviews.

The public sometimes sees two of me—one is the “Stephen King of gay horror” and that me writes books like A Demon Inside, Blood Sacrifice, and Third Eye. This Stephen King character is grizzled, bearded, and grumpy. You don’t want to meet up with him in a dark alley.

The other me is much lighter, in terms of psyche. That me is a gay romance writer. This guy, who is clean-shaven, has a smile for everyone, and is generally in a good mood, writes love stories like Chaser, Legally Wed, Caregiver and Dinner at Home.

These two me’s have seldom been left alone in a room together and when they have they have managed to produce books that are a hybrid of the two, books like The Blue Moon Café and Bashed. Those two combine the sometimes-at-odds with the other combination of horror and romance.

For the first time ever, the two me’s sat down in a café in Seattle’s free-spirited Fremont neighborhood (neutral territory because the horror me likes the big troll statue living under one end of the Aurora Bridge—see picture). In order to keep things, um, straight, the following interview uses HM to indicate Horror Me and RM to indicate Romance Me. And yes, you can romance me, anytime….

HM: So what are you doing here? Must you show up everywhere I want to be? Christ, I can’t get a moment by myself.
RM: Sorry, but it’s a free country. I can be anywhere I want. What’s that? A cappuccino?
HM (rolls eyes): It’s a black coffee. Drip.
RM: Well, I’m having the crème brulee latte.
HM: You would (snorts).
RM: I detect a note of disdain here.
HM: Well, there’s more than a note, Miss. Why are you sitting down at my table? Did I invite you?
RM: No, but I belong here as much as you do.
HM: Getting back to the disdain, I have disdain for you because you are taking over my personality and stealing my reputation. Before you happened along with your little love stories, I was doing quite well for myself writing about blood, gore, and things that go bump in the night. You know, mapping out nightmare territory. I had my author photos taken in cemeteries. People knew me for throwing a good scare into them.
RM: And they still know you for that, which is something you’d realize if you took a good, hard look at yourself. But I am here to tell you there is room for more than one writer under this rapidly-thinning head of hair.
HM: But why? Why romance? It’s the antithesis of everything I stood for.
RM: Not really. Romance, like horror, is ultimately about strong emotion. Fear, like love, is universal. So, we are not as different as you’d like to think.
HM: I’m not so sure about that. I write about people being killed, people being haunted, monsters, ghouls. I don’t see how that’s much like your la-di-da romance tales.
RM: Think of the emotions involved. The rising sense of excitement, the increased heart rate and perspiration, the breathlessness. All of those are present with both fear and passion.
HM: Okay, I get it. I get it. But does that mean you still have to step on my toes? You’re ruining my reputation.
RM: Just like with love, sweetheart, there’s room for variety, for harmony. I think we can coexist.
HM: But you seem so much more powerful lately. Just look at the books that have come from you over the past year.
RM: You’re right.
HM: Why is that?
RM (pausing to consider and take a sip of his latte): Maybe it’s because I’ve reached a different place in my life. I’ve reached a place where the stories I want to tell are about something other than the terror that life can bring, but the joy that life can bring, too.

See, for years, when you were really my dominant force, I was consumed with finding love in my own life. And I came close many times, for one reason or another, it never worked out. That is, until I met Bruce. He was the one. The perfect fit. The soul mate. The one with whom I can’t imagine not spending the rest of my days.

Once I was secure in my own personal romance, only then was I free to write about others’. Does that make sense? I needed to confront my fears (not just the ghastly, curl-your-hair ones), but the ones about being alone, about maybe never making that connection that was more than just passion, but family.

HM doesn’t say anything for a long while. He sips his coffee and eyes me, like I’m some sort of alien—not the illegal kind, but an invader from another planet. The kind he might write about. For a moment, I am afraid, he will fling the coffee into my face, but then a strange thing happens—he begins to fade away, just like the ghosts in the stories he used to pen.

Just as he’s about to disappear completely, he stops in mid-transformation and eyes me.
HM: I get you. You were who I always wanted to be. But, although I am fading away before your very eyes, I am not disappearing.

I am merging with you.

Bashed 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.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Softly, Subtly, Homophobia Creeps In

Note: This post originally appeared at Joyfully Jay M/M Reviews and More.

So, my newly-reissued book, Bashed, is all about a tragic hate crime and its aftermath. The book revolves around an atrocity that happens all too frequently for the gay community (Google some statistics and you’ll be appalled). Fortunately, Bashed is also filled with hope and ultimately details a journey back toward life and love.

But what I wanted to talk about today is not the horror of a hate crime, where someone is physically hurt—or even killed—but about the root of hate crimes, homophobia, in its subtler forms. The excerpt below demonstrates the way hate toward gay people can manifest itself in a way that may not leave a bruise, but hurts just as much nonetheless. I am grateful that I have never been physically brutalized for being who I am (at least not as an adult), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been the brunt of prejudice. I’ve seen the downcast eyes and the friendliness drop when I mention my husband to a clerk in a store, or the sudden withering of enthusiasm from an old school friend when they realize, from my Facebook page, that I’ve become a bona fide queer. I’m not here to rant, but I know what prejudice feels like.

And so does Donald, my main character in Bashed, who is trying to process the loss of the man he loved so much when he feels the hateful tingle of homophobia (at the wake for his boyfriend)….

He looked around. The place was crowded. He never realized Mark had so many friends and family members. He and Mark had sort of cocooned themselves, as lovers often do in the early months, against the outside world. Donald would have said they were still in their honeymoon phase. He hadn’t even seen Grace as much as he used to once Mark came along.

Was Mark in the crowd right now, wearing a clever disguise? He would be eager to hear the loving words those left behind uttered, the fond memories and funny recollections. Would he be feeling much the same sense of loss that Donald was feeling? Perhaps he was one of the guys gathered near the front door. They certainly looked enough like Mark: big boned, ruddy complexions, and the curly blond hair that had so turned Donald’s head.

Grace brought him out of his reverie and wishful thinking. “Check out the guys by the door up there,” she said softly. “Those have to be Mark’s brothers. They look exactly like him.”

Of course. Mark had two brothers, Phil and Steven, both older, but not by much. Donald had seen pictures of them but had yet to meet them. He had yet to meet any of Mark’s family, in fact, and that had been a sore spot in their relationship. But Donald, the older, supposedly wiser member of the couple should have understood Mark’s trepidation. It would have meant bringing home his first boyfriend.

“Yeah. Quite a resemblance.” Donald drew his lips into a tight line. He wished they hadn’t come to the funeral home, to the wake that had been delayed for reasons he didn’t quite understand. He looked at his sister, whose eyes were rimmed in red. She had pulled her hair into a bun and wore a simple black dress, heels, and a strand of pearls that had once belonged to their mother. Grace had done enough crying for the both of them in their short time at the funeral parlor. Apparently she had no problems believing it truly was Mark in the casket.

“You know what? I was thinking. What if that box up there is empty? What if Mark isn’t really in there? What if he’s still alive?”

Grace’s mouth dropped open, and her face took on an expression of stricken fear. She looked nervously around her. Donald supposed it was to see if anyone on adjoining folding chairs had heard his remark. She smiled, but it was an uncertain smile that bore more of a relationship to a grimace than an expression of joy.

“What are you talking about?” Grace cocked her head and put her hand to Donald’s face.

He moved away. Her hand dropped. “What are you doing? Checking for fever?”

“No, of course not. But, sweetheart, what you said, that’s crazy. You do know that, right?” Her brows furrowed, and she leaned close enough that he could smell cinnamon, the Dentyne she had tucked into her mouth.

Donald shook his head and sighed. “It’s just wishful thinking. Maybe trying to understand why I have yet to cry over this.”

Grace squeezed his hand. “Oh, baby brother, that’s easy. You’re still in shock. You haven’t accepted things yet. It’s understandable.”

Donald stared again at the casket, his gaze roaming over all the mourners, the little groups of them gathered in clusters, all speaking in hushed, serious tones, as if they wanted their conversation to match the muted wallpaper, ecru walls, plush carpet, and the overly heavy drapery.

What did any of this have to do with Mark?

He turned to his sister. “I know Mark is not in that box.”

She cocked her head and frowned.

He waved her away. “Listen. He’s not in that box. He’s not in this room. I’m not crazy. Sure, wishful thinking made me entertain—for like, five seconds—that Mark isn’t really dead, but I know he is. But I also know Mark isn’t in that box. Not Mark. Mark’s shell. Mark’s body. Maybe. Those things might be there. But Mark is no longer with us. So he can’t be in that box. He’s not in this room either. He wouldn’t be caught dead….” Donald sputtered out a mournful laugh at his unintentional quip. “At a place like this. Mark was full of humor and life. If he were here, he’d be cracking jokes in a corner, trying to make people laugh. He’d be trying to turn this wake into a party, just like his Irish ancestors probably did at one time.”

Grace put a hand on her brother’s chest. Donald could see she was relieved. “You’re so right.” She started to say something else and stopped. Donald had seen, peripherally, the movement he supposed had caught his sister’s eye. One of Mark’s brothers was heading their way.

Donald marveled again at how much the man looked like Mark, albeit an older variation on the same theme. He had the same wild blond curls, although his were more tamed by his shorter haircut, the same broad shoulders, although this man sported a gut Mark didn’t have, and the same cherubic face. He was heading toward them with purpose, a smile lighting up his features.

Donald swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, and tried to smile back. He didn’t know if he was ready to finally meet some of Mark’s family. He supposed he could mouth the same words that had been mouthed at funerals since time immemorial—sorry for your loss, such a tragedy. He could only hope the sympathy would be returned.

The man stood before them, smiling. Grace started to say, “We’re so sorry about your brother—” But the man cut her off and turned his attention to Donald.

He continued to smile, but his words were tinged with acid. “You the boyfriend?”

Donald’s mouth grew a little dryer. He nodded, suddenly unable to put his brain and tongue together to form speech.

“I just wanted to say how happy I am to lay eyes on you. How happy we all are—here in this room—to finally see you.” He cocked his head, grin undiminished, blue eyes (so like Mark’s!) twinkling. “See, I wanted to thank you.” The smile faltered for an instant, and a sob went through the man’s body, like a tremor. His eyes welled with tears. Then the emotion vanished, replaced once more by that hateful, terrible smile. Donald thought it would have been so much better if he were frowning, furious, yelling at the top of his lungs. “See, I wanted to say thanks for making my little brother a fag.”

“Oh, now—” Grace whimpered, but the man put up a warning hand near her face to cut her off.

“Thank you very much, sir. Before he met you, my brother was normal, just one of the guys. He played touch football with us; he did normal things. He even had a girlfriend. Thanks to you, he’s dead. Thanks to you, he was so badly beaten that we delayed the funeral so they could work on him, make him presentable so we could have a last look at him.” He glanced over at the closed casket. “You can see how well that worked out.” The man smiled more brightly and nodded, as if he and everyone around him agreed with what he was saying, as if he were speaking the voice of reason. And even though his voice was soft, the intensity with which he spoke caused the other people talking around them to go silent. Donald’s face felt hot as he realized people were eavesdropping. He wondered if they felt pity or hatred for him, wondered if there was any ground between the two extremes.

“Yeah, you ‘turned’ him. Isn’t that what you pansies like to do? Look at you. You were old enough to be my brother’s father! Why couldn’t you have just left him alone?” He turned away for a moment, and when he turned back, the smile was gone, and tears were rolling down his face. His mouth was drawn into a tight line. “None of us would be here now if it weren’t for you, you perverted son of a bitch.”

Donald’s face felt even more heat, as if it were on fire. He was so stunned by the man’s words, his mind had gone blank. He could think of no rational way to respond. The whole funeral parlor had now gone silent. He realized people were staring at him and Grace.

And he realized he didn’t belong here.

Another of Mark’s brothers, the eldest, Donald imagined, with a bald pate, came over and took the man who had just bashed Donald verbally by the arm. “C’mon now, man, this isn’t right. Let’s just go outside and cool off.” The other man cast a glance back at Donald, and Donald was grateful to see that there was sympathy in his gaze. He mouthed the word “sorry” over his brother’s shoulder and continued to pull him away.

Grace and Donald sat in stunned silence for only a few minutes. Grace took his hand. “I think we should go. You want to say good-bye?” she gestured with her head, stiffly, toward the coffin at the front of the room.

Donald managed to gather some spit in his mouth, enough to say, “No. I’m not saying good-bye.”

Grace spoke softly, her voice infused with kindness. “Then let’s just go.”

Dear old Grace, Donald thought, bless her heart for holding it together when she could have easily let everything spin out of control. My rock.

Donald followed his sister out of the funeral home, feeling again the heat in his face as conversations went silent as they passed, as gazes bore, like lasers, into his back.

Outside, the pair of Mark’s brothers stood stiffly next to one another, smoking cigarettes. Neither was speaking. They simply stared forward, two strangers who happened to be occupying the same place at nearly the same time. Donald could feel the tension coming off them, though.

“Just a minute,” he said to Grace. He felt himself begin to tremble as he walked away from his sister and her comforting closeness. But he couldn’t leave things as they were. He neared the brothers and caught the gaze of the one who had spoken so cruelly to him inside. The man glared at Donald, ready for a fight.

Donald cleared his throat and said, in a soft voice, “I’m really sorry you lost Mark. But I lost him too. And when you’re calmer, maybe you’ll realize that it wasn’t me who killed him, or the fact that we loved each other, but it was attitudes like yours.” Donald swallowed. “I hope, for Mark’s memory, you can come to see that.”

Donald didn’t wait for the man to respond. He simply turned, took Grace’s hand, and walked away.

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.

Buy Links
Dreamspinner Ebook.
Dreamspinner Paperback.
Amazon Kindle.
Amazon Paperback.
AllRomance eBooks.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Blue Moon Cafe's Sam Comes to Life!

Once in a while you run across an image that could be a character you created. This IS Sam, my Italian chef and maybe-werewolf from THE BLUE MOON CAFE. All he's missing is the wolf tattoo.

Someone--or something--is killing Seattle's gay men.
A creature moves through the darkest night, lit only by the full moon, taking them, one by one, from the rain city's gay gathering areas.

Someone--or something--is falling in love with Thad Matthews. 
Against a backdrop of horror and fear, young Thad finds his first true love in the most unlikely of places: a new Italian restaurant called The Blue Moon Cafe. Sam is everything Thad has ever dreamed of in a man: compassionate, giving, handsome, and with brown eyes Thad feels he could sink into. And Sam can cook! But as the pair's love begins to grow, so do the questions and uncertainties, the main one being, why do Sam's unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Comfort Comes in Many Forms

Note: This post originally appeared at  Joyfully M/M Romance Reviews and More.

If you’ve read any of my romance books, you know that I like to take my characters from heartache to a happy-ever-after. There’s something so satisfying about that—how we can disappear into a book and live for a bit in world where everything eventually comes out all right.

The recipe below, included in an early chapter of Dinner at Home, is all about the heartache portion of the story. My main character, Ollie D’Angelo, has lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, practically in one fell swoop. Comfortably Curried Carrots and Lentils is what he makes for himself his first night in his new—and lonely—apartment. Try the recipe when you’re in need of a little comfort.

Hey, it worked for Ollie.

Comfortably Curried Carrots and Lentils 
(Serves 4)

2 cups green lentils

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3.5 cups chicken stock
2 T grated ginger
1 small red onion, chopped
2 T curry powder
3 T tomato paste
1 cup coconut milk
1 t salt
1 t cumin
½ t coriander
½ t cinnamon
2 cups baby spinach
Garnishes: Greek yogurt, chopped parsley, sliced jalapenos

Use a 4-qt. slow cooker.  Rinse lentils and pick through for any stones. Combine all ingredients, except for baby spinach, and set cooker to low for six hours or until lentils are tender. Add baby spinach at the very end, replace cover and let wilt. Serve with optional garnishes. Can also serve over rice or couscous.

Here’s an excerpt that shows where Ollie was at the beginning of the book. And, as you can see, things are not all bad as Ollie gets ready to prepare his carrots and lentils.

In spite of the goodies he had purchased, Ollie felt the exhaustion peculiar to emotional shock set in on him as he entered his new apartment. Calling it home was out of the question, at least in these early days. The place was depressing and the fact that it was empty made it even moreso. He dared not even talk to himself, because his voice would echo pathetically.

After setting down his purchases on the kitchen counter, he walked back to the main living area and pulled the blinds up. He looked down at 10th Avenue, which, a bit farther south, morphed into Broadway, the main drag through the gay ghetto of Capitol Hill, wondering if he would ever feel a sense of home again. It didn’t help that, while he was making his way there, the cloud cover had become complete, blocking out the sun and shrouding the day in somber tones of gray. A light drizzle, more of a mist, had begun to fall.

Everything outside looked dirty and drab. If Ollie had taken a photograph, it would have shown up in black and white.

Ollie wondered why he wasn’t brought to his knees on the floor with grief and wondered why he wasn’t crying. Wouldn’t these be normal reactions to one’s world falling apart? Why wasn’t he on the phone with his mom in Chicago, pouring out his almost laughable tale of woe?

Ollie did sit down on the floor then, and smiled. He didn’t smile because he felt particularly happy, but because he realized he wasn’t sad.

Sure, he had lost almost everything in one fell swoop and was now faced with the prospect of starting over with almost nothing. But it didn’t take long for him to emerge from the cloud of shock and confusion and realize the reason he didn’t feel despair.

He was free.

Starting over did not represent a troubling, exhausting climb back to where he had been, but a chance to begin anew. And that prospect was liberating, exciting even.

How many of us have a chance to start over, really start over? Ollie realized that his experiences with Walker and his job had taught him things, things that would need to be examined more closely, but on the surface he knew that he now had the chance to learn from what he had been through, and come out on the other side a better person.

He could do anything.

It only takes a few days for Ollie D'Angelo to lose his boyfriend, his job, and his home. Instead of mourning what he doesn’t have, Ollie celebrates what he does: the freedom to pursue his real passion—cooking. He begins Dinner at Home, a home-catering business, and it takes off.

Late one night, Ollie catches Hank Mellinger, a streetwise hood down on his luck, about to rob his car. Ollie soon discovers that appearances aren’t necessarily what they seem. Hank isn’t a criminal caught red-handed, but a hungry young man trying to make a life for himself and the four-year-old niece he’s trying desperately to take care of.

Instead of calling the cops, Ollie offers Hank a job and a way to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Together, they discover they can really cook... and that their shared passion for food just might lead to a passion for each other.

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