Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sneak Peek: True North

I mentioned that Kristina Wright's For the Love of a Soldier will be out at the end of the month from Circlet Press, and it includes my story, "True North." I thought I'd give you a taste of the story now.

Callie's father, who was a veteran, recently passed away. She relied on government services to bury him, and in the process met Rudy Andrada, a young serviceman who offers to help her. This scene is from the first time she sees Rudy off base.

***

When he showed up at my father's house, I was wound up tighter than the pair of pants I'd put on. I knew better than to dress like that for a day of hard work, but when I was getting ready in the morning, I couldn't stop thinking about Rudy's eyes, his strong jaw, his long, straight body. No matter how many times I tried to remind myself that he was too young for me, that he wanted to help me not date me, I couldn't convince myself to tie my hair into a ponytail and be done with it. Instead, I slaved over my eye makeup, and foolishly put on that pair of too-small pants.

Rudy unloaded a six pack and a two-liter of cola from the bed of his truck. "I didn't know whether you drink," he explained. I imagined how he would look tipping his head back to take a long swig from the bottle, its sweat dripping down the glass and onto the side of his hand, and my reaction informed me that I still didn't have myself under control. A man Rudy's age wouldn't want a woman like me, already weighed down by the grief of living. He'd come because he was a good person, trying to address a need he perceived. I convinced myself to hold back, thanked him for the drinks, and suggested we open the cola.

For the next few hours, he plunged into my father's world with me, moving boxes and furniture, cleaning the dust from corners, climbing onto a step ladder to wipe the blades of ceiling fans, and never complaining. I would have helped more physically, but the pants wouldn't really allow it. Instead, I wound up going through my father's files, looking for financial information or other papers that I would need to deal with. That job had been too overwhelming for me to start until then, but with Rudy in the house, I could take a deep breath and focus on one paper at a time. I didn't know what it was about him that steadied me, only that I couldn't have gotten through the task without his presence.

The newly cleaned fans did their best to cool the house, but the heat from outside pressed in, and my father had never bought an AC unit. Rudy pulled off his shirt at some point in the afternoon, the gesture casual, natural. It took my breath away. I came to a full stop, gawping. It wasn't just the perfect muscle definition running up his brown back. I was entranced by how close that warm, hard flesh was to the palms of my hands. With a few steps, a gesture, and a little boldness, I could touch it. It took a long time to unclench my fists, to swallow my desire, to go back to rustling through old papers.

Rudy accomplished more in one day than I could have in several. I asked him to stay for dinner, and did my best to show my gratitude, frying up steak and vegetables from my father's freezer, trying not to think about the other ways I wanted to demonstrate how I felt.

He was gracious, helping out however I allowed him, convincing me to share a little of the beer with him. Deftly opening one, he poured exactly half into a glass for me, then took a sip in just the way I had fantasized about.

I couldn't stand it anymore. When he came up for air and put the bottle down, I set aside my spatula and kissed him. He gave a surprised grunt, but when I pressed in tight against him, he responded, taking my shoulder blades in his big, strong hands and gathering me close. His lips were softer than I expected, his cock quicker to get hard. He tasted salty from the beer, and smelled of work and the remnants of the ocean-tinged cologne he'd put on that morning.

For a little while, he held onto me and let me kiss him, his mouth opening to my tongue, and his breath speeding up along with mine. Behind me, the pan hissed ominously, and Rudy was the one to break away and suggest I ought to pay attention to it.

I stirred haphazardly, my heart sinking when I turned back and saw his frown. "I don't want to take advantage of you," he said seriously.

I couldn't help laughing. "It seems a lot more like I'm the one taking advantage."

He bit his lip, the gesture reminding me again that I had a good eight years on him. "I don't want you to think you owe me."

I gestured toward the pan on the stove. "That's because I owe you." Feeling bold, I reached up and ran my thumb along his bottom lip. Now that I'd thrown my cards onto the table, the lust I'd been trying to hold back came forward in full force. There were plenty of things I ought to have been thinking about, plenty of reasons why that wasn't a good time to come onto him. None of that mattered since I'd kissed him."With this, you'd be doing me a favor."

He grinned at that. "I'm pretty sure I'd be getting something in return, Callie."

I began to ache between my legs. For weeks, I'd been in a gray fog of sadness and endless to-do lists. Now that I'd raised the question with Rudy, the world seemed vivid again, full of color that started with his eyes and spread everywhere else. "Do you want to?"

Practical man that he was, he glanced toward the stove, which I turned off before he could raise a full objection on account of it. Then he glanced toward the master bedroom. "What about your father?"

"You're talking as if he's about to come out and threaten you with a shotgun if you don't have me back by ten. I'm a grown woman, Rudy."

"You know what I mean."

I couldn't sidestep what he was trying to bring up. I sighed, pressing against his chest again in an instinctive gesture that felt like it could all too easily become habit. "I don't think I'd be able to do this in the bedroom, but I do want you. We can do it right here on the floor, maybe." I punctuated the statement with a little downward tug, but he resisted. "The timing's a little weird," I admitted. "I didn't plan this."

He pulled at one of the belt loops of my tight pants, showing he'd noticed how I'd dressed. I couldn't help smiling at that. "Maybe I had some hopes."

"Sometimes, when people are sad, they act a little strange. Maybe do things that they regret later." His eyes seemed unusually far away, and I realized we still hadn't done much talking. For all that I had a sense for who Rudy was as a person, I knew almost none of the details of his life.

I stepped back and gave him a serious expression. "That sounds like the voice of experience."

He shrugged. "Guys I knew from basic training, that sort of thing." He cleared his throat and shrugged, the gesture dismissing entire worlds—the same things my father had been reliving with his war movies and his nightmares. "Sometimes, I didn't take it well."

"You're worried I kissed you because I'm not taking it well?"

He pulled me in, leaning his forehead against mine. His finger curled through the belt loop again. "I just don't want to ruin anything."

I blinked. "I didn't know we had anything to ruin."

"Maybe I had some hopes." He touched my cheek, his fingertips rough against my skin. I must have looked startled, or even scared. Much as I wanted him, I hadn't thought about what it would be like to really be with him, to make love with the lights on and introduce him to my friends, to have to risk the possibility that someday war might become too much for him the way it had for my father. "We can take it as slow as you want," he murmured.

I wanted to tell him that was all wrong. I didn't want to take it slow. I wanted to take it fast, to sleep with him right there and then try my best to forget about it all. I didn't realize my face was wet with tears until he brushed one away.

"Think about it," he said. "I can get an overnight pass next week."
***

For the Love of a Soldier comes out on June 29th.

You can preorder it at these links!

Apple:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/for-the-love-of-a-soldier/id1243788105?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/for-the-love-of-a-soldier-5

Barnes and Noble:   https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/for-the-love-of-a-soldier-annabeth-leong/1126495728?ean=2940154686140

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Love-Soldier-Military-Erotic-Romance-ebook/dp/B0721RQZJV/

***

Also, consider joining the Circlet Press Patreon... You can get seriously ridiculous numbers of books through the offers there, for very low monthly pledges.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mark and the Caul: Origin Story

Hi!

I'm participating in the blog tour for Sacchi Green's Witches, Princess, and Women at Arms, which includes my story, "The Mark and the Caul."

The idea of the book was to tell lesbian fairy tales, either original or adapted from classic stories. I sometimes enjoy going through my volume of Grimm classics and coming up with something fascinating and obscure, and that's what I did here.

"The Mark and the Caul" is loosely based on "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs." If you read the synopsis, you'll see some of the themes I picked up: a child born with a caul, and an associated prophecy; and a king determined to thwart that prophecy. My character, Sam, overlaps with this character. She's good at being in the right place at the right time, just like the character in the original.

My other main character, Lucinda, emerged as the flip side to this process. I mostly invented her in response to the questions the story seemed to ask.

I think that's a wild thing when it happens. For one thing, "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs" is extremely dense. I covered only the beginning of the story in my rather long entry to Sacchi Green's book. On the other hand, it leaves so much mysterious and unexplained.

The character of the princess, who appears in the original, is barely fleshed out, and that left me plenty of room to find Lucinda, and to make her a perfect match for Sam.

I really enjoy the process of filling in gaps, and writing stories based on fairy tales is one of my favorite ways to do it. I find that those unexplained mysteries leave plenty of room for eroticism, queerness, and other elements of human nature.

If you'd like to see an excerpt, I posted one here.

And if you'd like to buy the book, you can find it here!

THE GIVEAWAY and LINKS

Anyone who comments on any of these blog posts will be entered in a drawing for a paperback copy (in North America) or an ebook (elsewhere) of Witches, Princesses, and Women at Arms. Each blog you comment on gives you one more entry.

Here’s the lineup of blog posts—the links may be adjusted as we go along, so check back here every now and then.

June 14th: Sacchi Green-“Trollwise” (plus the Introduction)
www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 15th: Cara Patterson-“Steel”
www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 16th: Michael M. Jones-“The Miller’s Daughter”
michaelmjones.com

June 19th: H.N. Janzen-“The Prize of the Willow”
www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 20th: Annabeth Leong-“The Mark and the Caul”
annabethleong.blogspot.com

June 21st: Brey Willows-“Penthouse 31”
breywillows.com

June 22nd: Salome Wilde-“The Princess’s Princess”
sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 23nd: Emily L. Byrne-“Toads, Diamonds and the Occasional Pearl”
writeremilylbyrne.blogspot.com

June 26th: A.D.R. Forte-“Warrior’s Choice”
sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 27th: M. Birds-“Woodwitch”
mbirds.tumblr.com

June 28th: Madeleine Shade-“Robber Girl”
https://www.facebook.com/carina.bissett.5

June 29th: Lea Daley-“The Sorceress of Solisterre”
sacchi-green.blogspot.com

June 30th: Allison Wonderland-“SWF Seeks FGM”
aisforallison.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sneak Peek: Bête Noire

A bit ago, I told you about "Bête Noire," the story I have coming out in Jen Blackmore's Beastly Affair anthology from Circlet Press.

You can read some background on how I came up with the story in the post I linked above. Today, I thought I'd share a quick taste of the story. So here, for your reading enjoyment, are the opening paragraphs!

I. Beautiful, Beastly Revenge

Before we shoot out a window and start killing all the guards in sight, Beauty leans in to kiss me.

I stop her. “You’re making me feel pretty, darling.” I hold up one matted, woolly hand, protract the obsidian claws still dripping blood from what we had to do to get this close to Orlagh’s fancy house. “We can’t risk breaking the curse here.”

“I just thought… This might be our last chance, Bête. If she kills us…”

“She won’t.”

Neither of us is sure of that, but there’s no choice besides pretending. True love and its urges aside, Beauty knows there couldn’t be a worse time for me to return to my former, softer self. She pulls back her face and reaches for my hand instead. Even the brush of her fingers—oily from her gun—makes my heart shiver with sweet visions of who I could become for her. I take my hand away and shove it into my pocket, ignoring her quiet, hurt sigh. We’ll have time to talk this over after we deal with Orlagh.

I force myself to stop contemplating the subtle scent of roses that manages to linger around Beauty even after three saddlesore days of bloodshed, dust, and magic so cut-rate and ragged it could give a person tetanus.

The sound of a footstep makes me press myself flat against the stucco wall in front of us, though we’re well hidden for the moment. Orlagh is the sort of rich asshole who grows a lush formal garden around her desert mansion—whether she has the water shipped or conjured, it’s disgustingly ostentatious—but I do admit some gratitude for the thick blue-and-pink endless-summer hydrangeas currently concealing our position. Still, assuming we got an accurate map of the grounds from the former servant we bribed back in town, we’re kneeling right outside Orlagh’s bedroom window. Her habit of tossing around curses when she’s drunk and horny have made her a lot of enemies, and by all accounts she compensates by hiring vigilant guards.

Beauty and I exchange a glance. Her chest doesn’t move until the footsteps fade away. Then she offers a tentative smile. “I guess we should…” She nods upward.

“No point killing time when we could be killing the enemy,” I agree.

I don't have a release date yet, but I'll give you more information when I've got it!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Random Cool Thing: LGBT+ StoryBundle

Here's a cool thing I found: an LGBT+ StoryBundle. You get 5 books for whatever you want to pay, and if you pay at least $15, you get 12 books. Looks like a pretty sweet deal.

I'll confess, my Kindle is loaded with books I've picked up in similar deals, but it doesn't seem like a terrible thing to pay a low price for a bunch of interesting books. Sometimes I find myself revisiting these bundles years later, and winding up pleasantly surprised.

Oooh, and I should mention that there's an opportunity to donate 10% of what you pay to Rainbow Railroad, an organization that's trying to help LGBT people in Chechnya. I've blogged a few times about Dale Cameron Lowry's efforts to raise money for this organization, and I figure, the more the better!

You can see the full list of books here.

As far as how they were selected, Melissa Scott, the curator, writes:

First, no novels in which being queer means you're evil, nor any in which it's a doomed and tragic fate. There are places for the latter, but this is June and Pride Month, and I want to share books that celebrate queerness. I've also decided to focus on small press offerings, as they are more likely to be overlooked than books from the mainstream houses. I've tried to pick newer novels, and to reintroduce some older writers, and in general to include books and writers who you might not have seen yet. Unfortunately, this didn't narrow things down very much at all.

So this looks like fun, especially because I've been having a lot of sleepless nights lately, and I've found that I like to pass that time reading books that don't end tragically.

Also, shout-out to Catherine Lundoff, a Twitter friend, who has two books in this collection! This seems like a great opportunity to get to know her work more (I know I like the work she publishes under her erotica-writing persona, Emily Byrne).

The books I pulled out pictures of are the ones I'd probably be buying this bundle for. Others may surprise me! But I'm really drawn to these interesting covers.

***

I do have questions about how fully this bundle earns the designation LGBT+. I can tell from looking that it's not G masquerading as LGBT+ (which is all too common with collections of books, and disappointing to me). There are things here that definitely look like L, that I'd definitely read.

What I can't tell, without a much deeper look, is how well B and T and + are represented. So please be aware of that if this is something you're interested in. (Someday, I'd like to feel confident that when LGBT+ is used, it really does mean a full spectrum of inclusivity. That may be true of this bundle, but I'm just not sure!).

Still, I'll be picking this up. I already own a few of these titles, but they're good, so that suggests the others are, too. Also, the price is low enough that even if I only read a few of these, it'll be worth the bundle.

If you pick this up, let me know what you think! Also, if anyone reading this does know how well the bundle represents B, T, and +, please feel free to let us know in the comments! :D

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Getting Back on the Carousel

I used to think that the way to do things was to "learn discipline," to figure out how to do them every day and never stop. I'm actually great at discipline and habits, it turns out, but that's never been the real answer for me.

So much more important than learning how to do things daily, and so much more important than learning how to make a rigid schedule and stick to it, is learning what to do when that's not what happens.

I call this "getting back on the carousel."

How do I pick up a notebook I haven't touched in a while? How do I go back to the library when I owe them fines for overdue books? I used to go to events that group put on—but how do I face them if I haven't been there for a while?

The reason I call this getting back on the carousel is because the sensation sometimes reminds me of trying to jump onto an object that's already spinning and moving. People have carried on while I was away, or sick, or busy with other things. Nothing is in the place I remembered it being. This is true even if the thing in question only has to do with me. A story I was writing never seems to be quite in the condition I left it in.

For me, it takes a lot of bravery to jump onto that spinning carousel. There's a part of me that wants to go away and never ride a carousel again.

I think this is the source of the admonishments to establish rigid habits and never break them. It's true in my experience that there's an easy flow to following a habit that's solidly in place.

I think, however, that those admonishments are short-sighted. They're so harsh, and they offer little help when it comes to the inevitability of reality: at some point, all of us get off the carousel, for all sorts of reasons, sometimes for a really long time. Sometimes it's a long enough time that when you get back you find out the carousel's been repainted and moved to an entirely different location. Or maybe it just doesn't run anymore.

One of the biggest ways the admonishments don't help me is that they make me feel guilty and afraid—even more than I already am. I learned to write by writing 500 words every day, so you might think I'd like that writing advice. I don't, though, because I know what sort of guilt I lived with when I couldn't maintain that habit.

Instead, I'd say: Write when you can. Write when you want to. Figure out when is a good time for you to write and how you want to do it. Trust yourself. Sometimes rest is necessary. Forgive yourself. Sometimes it's sunny outside or you're sick or there's a book you really want to read or someone else needs your attention. However you do it, though, learn how to get back on the carousel. Setbacks will happen. Give yourself the chance to deal with them. Get the rest you need. Then begin again, gently.

Honestly, I wish I didn't have to say "forgive yourself," because I wish there was a way to not feel guilty at all about setbacks or periods of rest. I wish I could take them in stride and see that they don't actually call for forgiveness. Forgive yourself is a nice idea, but it contains the suggestion that a sin has been committed. And it's not a sin to get sick. It's not a sin to be exhausted.

When I was younger, I read too many stories about writers who woke up at 3 a.m. to write, because that's "what you do when you're really committed." I disagree. It's a way of showing commitment, yes, but over a lifetime what I think means the most is getting back on the carousel, over and over again, whatever that looks like. Seriously. Playfully. Joyfully. Because you hope it will cheer you up. Because your friends are there. Because you hope you'll make friends there. Because you want to. Because you need to. Because you don't know what else to do. Because it's fun.

Commitment, to me, is finding ways to fit what matters to me into my life, however it's possible to fit it there. Maybe I can't write right now, for whatever reason. There are times when I've maintained my commitment by touching the spines of books at the library, just to remind myself that I care about the words that go inside books.

I think things very often get compared to the workplace—and a harsh view of it at that. But what if I compare writing to love? I don't rigidly sit down to breakfast with my partners like clockwork. We live our lives and intertwine them as best we can. And I trust that it's not all going to fall apart just because I don't see one partner for one day—or longer. I trust love to pull us back to each other. These things don't always have to be forced.

Sometimes, I've been uncertain of whether I'll ever manage to get back on the carousel, and then I find myself there, on a cool night, surrounded by the smell of green, and suddenly it feels easy. It's okay to wait for that, if you need to.

I've wanted to say these things for a while. I recently went through a six month period where I couldn't do much beyond basic survival. Not only did I have to forgive myself for not doing more, I had to realize that there was nothing to be forgiven. But it was hard on my sense of self because there's a lot of me that's still wrapped up in that discipline nonsense. The point, though, is that I had to learn to trust my ability to get back on the carousel when I was ready. The things I love don't disappear just because I can't see them. The person I am doesn't disappear if I can't get up at 3 a.m. to do something hard.

This seemed like a good occasion because, after a little over a month of posting daily on this blog, it's now been a week. And I liked the discipline. I was proud of the streak. But I think people put too much stock in the streak, because here I am again, see? Getting back on the carousel. Returning. And if I look at the history of this blog, it's the returning that matters. I've returned so many times, for so many years now. These days, that's something I trust more than discipline.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Heterosexual Erotica

Circlet Press will soon release a new anthology, Like a Spell, edited by Jennifer Levine. It looks like a cool book in general, but I wanted to highlight one particular decision that Circlet made, which I think is an important and overlooked part of creating a truly diverse landscape.

Like a Spell is going to come out as an omnibus of four smaller anthologies, divided by sexuality. So, for example, there's Earth, an anthology of lesbian fantasy erotica. But there's also Air, "magically heterosexual fantasy erotica."

Publisher Cecilia Tan wrote this on Patreon about the decision:

Volume 3 presented a sort of new challenge. We realized it's the "norm" to label gay, lesbian, kinky, trans, et cetera erotica as such, but heterosexual erotica gets to be the "default." If a book just says "erotica" it's assumed to be het. With a Circlet Press book, though, you really can't make that assumption, and it felt unbalanced to label three of the four books and then have one that just said "erotica." Usually in Circlet-land something unlabeled means "everything mixed together" or pansexual. So we decide to give Vol 3 the subtitle "Magically Heterosexual Fantasy Erotica". 

I think this was a good decision on Circlet's part, and it also points to a way to push against the default. I think this applies in other realms, too. For example, one thing that I think can help push against the idea of whiteness as default in fiction is to specify that white characters are white. All too often, I read stories where brown characters are specified and white characters are left unspecified. While this is an improvement over having no brown characters at all, it still centers the story firmly in a white perspective.

Similarly, I think it's a good idea to label heterosexual erotica as heterosexual, because that's the way to stop seeing heterosexuality as the default.

I have mixed feelings about coming out scenes. On the one hand, I eat them up. I really like to read them. On the other, I'm bothered by the idea that they're necessary. While I think it might be easy to conclude that we shouldn't have them, I think that goes the wrong way. It's similar to the way the idea of "colorblindness" turns out to be largely counterproductive outside of a few specific scenarios where it's useful (such as resume review systems that aim to create a colorblind situation for recruiters).

If we wind up in a future that's truly accepting of all sexual orientations, I don't think coming out will end. I think, though, that it won't be only some people who have to come out—it'll be everyone. If no one's sexual orientation is assumed, we'll all need a label. We'll all go through the process of figuring out what our orientation is, and I think that's a beautiful thing.

So I'm all for the heterosexual erotica label. And I'm excited to read Like A Spell.

If you want to stay up to date about goings on at Circlet (and be among the first to read new releases), you should consider joining Circlet's Patreon.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

For the Love of a Soldier - Revived!


Years ago, I posted about a story, "True North," that would come out in a book called, For the Love of a Solider, edited by Kristina Wright. I even posted a cover for it!

It's been a long time, and that book's been through a twisty journey, but I just got word that it'll be out June 29th from Circlet Press! This is the cover, and I'll share more info with you when I've got it!