Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve

I am not sorry to see the end of 2012. At all. This year bit the big one in way too many ways.

We don't go out for New Year. Instead, I'll be staying in and greeting it with the people who matter to me the most - my husband and kids. It'll be a quiet night, but that's the way we usually like it.

Whatever your plans are, be safe, and be happy. :)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The opening of A Simple Charm

Since I posted cover art for it yesterday, I thought I'd post the opening of A Simple Charm today.

There wasn’t a spot in the whole of Brookburn, Indiana where the tiny colored flags on top of the tents pitched outside of town weren’t visible. The red and yellow wisps fluttered whether Levi could feel a breeze or not, captured in a world of their own making, someplace separate and magical where the wind didn’t whip up the dust to get trapped in places it had no business being. He even caught them dancing at night, when he climbed out his window to sneak down to the gulley that cut the carnies off from the rest of town. He’d stretched out on his stomach, as flat to the packed earth as he could get, and drunk it all in until the last light had been extinguished.

Everywhere he looked was an explosion to his senses. Colors rainbows would’ve been jealous of. Laughter and music and hushed whispers as shadows emerged from one tent only to meld into a single entity before disappearing into another. Roasting meat and strong whiskey that made his stomach rumble even though he’d had his fill at suppertime. His fingers curled into the dry grass, because he needed to stay put, not make a run for it like everything inside screamed at him to do.

He crept back home before the night relinquished its hold on the sky. His dreams for the few hours he got before Pap pounded on the door for him to get to his chores left Levi with a hollow longing in his chest.

“Mr. Trumbull’s closing the store tomorrow,” he commented at the supper table, staring at the beef he sawed away at on his plate rather than anyone else at the table.

“Now why would he go and do a fool thing like that? Saturday’s your busiest day of the week.”

Levi had been working at the general store since ’27, when he was twelve and it became increasingly obvious to his burly father that his only son was built more like his wispy mother. He wasn’t short, but he’d always been too scrawny for most of the labor out on Granddad’s farm. Pete Beckerman talked Artie Trumbull into giving Levi a job, in hopes the hours helping with inventory and making deliveries around Brookburn would put some meat on his bones.

It hadn’t, not really, though Levi had always wondered why Mr. Trumbull had kept him on when there were plenty of men in town who could’ve used the extra wages to take care of their families. Money was tight, jobs hard to come by, and yet, the store became his second home, his haven when everywhere else felt wrong.

“He says everyone will be at the carnival tomorrow anyway,” Levi said in response to his mother’s surprised question.

Pap snorted. “And then at church on Sunday like they didn’t throw good money after bad just the day before.”

“You never know, Pete.” Levi and his sister Annie might have cringed a little at the harshness of Pap’s tone, but Mom was unfazed as always. She reached for the mashed potatoes to scoop another spoonful onto Pap’s plate. “I heard someone over in Jagerstown won a brand-new stove in that grand raffle of theirs.”

“A stove.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Those people don’t even have homes. How would they find the money for a stove?”

“Mr. Trumbull’s going.” Nobody in town really trusted the carnies, so Pap’s reactions were hardly unusual, but Levi wished he could see what else they offered, the dreams they held out with both hands to anybody who wanted them. Those fantasies were all Levi had thought about from the moment the first flyer showed up on the post outside the newspaper office, though his were buried so deep, they’d need more magic than a few pretty flags and some fast words to be set free.

“Well, with the store shut, he doesn’t have much else to keep out of trouble, now does he? Some of us have real work to do.”

Levi stopped trying then. Pap was just like the soil he tilled, practical, unchanging, ultimately immovable.

The night was cooler than its predecessor, the rustle of air coming in through his open bedroom window as bewitching as the not-so-far-away carnival. Levi leaned through the opening, stretching to peer around the Joslin house next door. Common sense said he shouldn’t be able to smell or hear anything, not from this distance, but he would’ve sworn on every Bible in Brookburn that it was right there. All he had to do was reach out and close his eyes and he was back at the edge of the gulley, the ground cold beneath his belly, his blood hot to make up for the chill everywhere else.

A soft rap came at his closed door. He jolted back, barely in the room when Mom let herself in.

Her gaze drifted to the window behind him. She knew. He didn’t have to say a word because she always knew, and that frightened him more than anything else. Some things should remain a secret. Some things had the power to hurt more than he would wish onto his greatest enemy, and the only way to make sure they didn’t was to lock them away from her omniscient eyes.

“Did you have plans tomorrow?” she asked.

Levi shrugged. Anything he’d hoped to do was built on fancies, as implausible as catching a cloud to make it rain when they most needed it at the height of summer. “Read, maybe.”

“Annie wants to go to the carnival. You should take her.”

The sudden lurch inside his chest made it hard to breathe, harder even when his heart took to racing like Scott Joslin’s best horse within the passage of the next moment. “What about Pap?”

She smiled. “I’m not telling you to take him.”

“What’ll you say?”

“You don’t worry about that. Just keep an eye on Annie, get back in time for supper, and if you manage to win me a new stove, well, that certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

She left him to spend the night too excited to sleep, hours lost to imaginings as he tossed and turned until dawn.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New cover art for A Simple Charm

The beginning of 2013 is going to be a busy one for me. I have three releases in the first two months. The first of these is on January 14 at Liquid Silver Books for my mostly sweet, m/m historical, "A Simple Charm."

And look! I have cover art!

In 1934, life in Brookburn, Indiana is quiet, simple, and peaceful, but young dreamer Levi Beckerman yearns for more. When the carnival shows up for the Fourth of July, he’s entranced by its many temptations. None is more seductive than the charismatic barker, Sebastian Gustineau.

Seb’s been a part of the carnival for almost a decade. Once, it provided him the escape he needed from a life he thought he didn’t want, but now, he craves things it can never offer. Flitting from dusty town to dusty town, he loses himself in pretty dalliances. Levi seems like the perfect distraction, until a single conversation convinces him that preserving Levi’s innocence and way of life is more important than his momentary satisfaction.

However, his plan to discourage Levi goes horribly wrong. When Levi’s family is threatened, Levi fights to protect them, doing what he can to hide the secrets he’s sheltered his entire life. The only person he trusts is Seb. He’s just not sure if the growing bond between them is enough to save them all.

I'll be talking a lot more about it in the weeks to come, including sharing an excerpt.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movies vs. Musicals

Yesterday, I got to see one of the movies I've been dying to this season. Les Miserables. I saw the stage version for the first time in April '88. I was in New York City for spring break my freshman year at college, and as a theatre major, Broadway was my drug of choice. I had nose bleed seats, but that night, I fell in love.

In the years since, I've seen Les Miserables sixteen more times in three different cities. Needless to say, it's my favorite musical ever, so my excitement going into the movie theater? Pretty unparalleled.

I walked out with my brain abuzz. Is it the greatest movie ever? No. But that doesn't mean I didn't cry at certain parts, or that I won't buy it as soon as it's available on Blu-ray.

The movie has definite strengths. The cinematography is sensational, gritty and sweeping as epics are meant to be. Some performances absolutely shine, as well. Anne Hathaway portrays Fantine as an angry, desperate woman, and her one-shot solo of "I Dreamed a Dream" is stunning. Hugh Jackman's transition from the bitter convict to the well-meaning father is clean and realistic, even if his vocals sometime strain to reach the purity the part often demands. As Cosette, Amanda Seyfried gives one of the more sympathetic versions I've ever seen, though her vibrato gets annoying by the end of the long (2 hours and 38 minutes) movie. The Thenardiers - Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter - aren't the comic caricatures that are often seen onstage but instead dark reminders of the seedier side of survival.

A couple performances pretty much fail for me. I've never been a fan of Marius as a young romantic lead, but Eddie Redmayne manages to turn him into an even bigger flake than usual. (On a side note, I just don't understand the physical appeal of him at all. He always reminds me of Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.) I've adored Russell Crowe for decades, but this is a singing role, not an acting one, and his nasally, rock style of singing - sliding into notes - is utterly unsuited to the operatic style Les Miserables requires. Javert is actually my favorite male character of the show, a tragic figure broken by his inability to accept any flexibility, especially his own, but I felt nothing of his inner conflict as played by Crowe.

Some of director Tom Hooper's choices didn't work for me, either. He plays it too heavy-handed sometimes in driving home his symbolism, like Javert's literal walking of edges and the giant eye looking over Valjean's shoulder during "God on High." His decision to change some of Eponine's actions turns her unrequited love from being sympathetic to selfish, and the complete exclusion of her from the final number weakens the theme of selfless love that makes Les Miserables resonate.

Because that is ultimately what this is about. One of my favorite lines from anything ever comes from the final moments. "To love another person is to see the face of God." It's about learning to care more about someone else than yourself. Fantine giving everything for Cosette. Valjean taking steps from accepting the fresh start given to him by the Bishop (a moving performance from Colm Wilkinson himself) all the way to saving Marius at the barricade so Cosette can finally have the future she deserves. Javert's failure to accept his own growth when he breaks his code of ethics. In the stage version, Eponine was part of this cycle, the representation of unrequited love who will do anything for the object of her affection, even at the expense of her own life. It's a shame that Hooper felt that had to be changed for the cinematic release.

I'm not sure I need to see it again in the theater (though after checking imdb and seeing Frances Ruffelle - the original Eponine - credited as one of the whores, I'm insanely curious to go back and watch for her part), but I don't regret going. It's flawed, but there are so many layers to peel away from the experience, it was worth it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The day before Christmas

Twenty-four hours to Christmas. My kids are a tad anxious. Me, I'm enjoying some relaxation this year, as we're keeping things rather low-key. I did get edits yesterday that left me more than a tad anxious, but I'm not letting myself dwell on them.

Instead, I'll dwell on the sweet perfection of this holiday picture...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Candy cane rice krispie treats

So yesterday was spent doing a lot of baking in preparation for an evening spent with friends. One of the things my daughter and I made were candy cane rice krispie treats. Some of you might turn your nose up at the idea, but trust me on this one. If you like rice krispie treats and candy cane flavors even a little, you'll LOVE this.

I've seen variations of this online, but I've modified the recipe over time to get it the way my family likes it.

1 13 oz box of Rice Krispies (or similar style cereal)
1 10 oz bag of mini marshmallows
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup crushed candy canes
40 candy cane Kisses
2 cups white chocolate chips
2 tbsp vegetable (or canola) oil
3 tbsp crushed candy canes

1. Unwrap all the Kisses. Microwave for 30 seconds to get them to a melty stage. It's okay to have smallish lumps.
2. Melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and melt together.
3. Stir marshmallow mixture into cereal.
4. Add melted Kisses and crushed candy canes.
5. Press into greased 9x13 pan. Refrigerate until set.
6. Over double boiler, melt white chocolate.
7. Add vegetable oil and stir until smooth.
8. Frost uncut Rice Krispie treats with white chocolate.
9. Sprinkle crushed candy canes over frosting.
10. Refrigerate until frosting is firm. Cut into squares at this point.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My life is a to do list

I am surrounded by things to do. Certain times of the year, I can actually get all the things done and then have time for myself. Most of the time, I go to bed, mentally calculating all the things I didn't get around to that day and planning accordingly for the next.

My life is a to do list. There is no satisfaction quite like that achieved when I can cross something off it.

These days, it centers around the holiday, even more so this year because we're on our own for it. This will be the first year we don't have my mother-in-law. My father-in-law chose to stay in the UK and spend the holidays with his other son. My family? Well, I haven't celebrated Christmas with my family in twenty years. We're scattered across the country. I'm in California. My brother is in Michigan. One sister is in Oklahoma and the other is in North Carolina with my mom. Getting together just doesn't happen.

So here I am, doing what I can to make it a memorable Christmas anyway. It's important to me. These are the memories that will guide my children into their futures. These are the signposts they will measure future holidays by. But it's more than that, because these are also the days I will never have with them again. If I've learned anything this year, it's that each day must be treasured for the gift it is. Holidays are no exception to that.

At the periphery of this, stories beg for my attention. I have no pressing demands right now, except for something completely gratis and for fun, but I can't even find the time to chip at that. Writing takes a backseat. Even more frustrating is the fact that ideas crop up more often when I don't have time to write. I keep getting nibbles of, "Oh! That would be fun to do," or "Wouldn't it be great to get back to the story about the prodigy?" 

I can't, though. Not right now. On the to do list of my life, it's just not enough of a priority to ignore everything else.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Facebook account

Well, I buckled. I've kind of avoided having a professional account on Facebook. Hell, I avoided having a private one for years. But the past couple months, I realized I would have to cave. I meant to do it for the New Year, but I went ahead and created one yesterday.

So for those who are over there, I'm now on Facebook.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Amber Quill pax blog

I've been working recently with Clare London in launching a new blog for Amber Quill, one dedicated solely to promoting the pax collections. This was its first full week, launched with the most recent release, the That Old Gang of Mine collection.

Some of the authors will be contributing posts to talk about their stories, but more importantly, anybody who comments on one of the posts the week after a release - and that's including this week - gets an opportunity to win the entire collection. That's five stories to one lucky person! So head over, take a look, and leave a comment. You just might be the winner!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday movie season

If I had my way, I'd live at the movie theater from mid-December to mid-January. This is the time of year that invariably sees my favorite movies come out. This year will be no exception. I mean...look at it.

Les Miserables - my favorite Broadway show ever, plus Hugh Jackman

Monsters, Inc. in 3D - okay, I've seen this many, many times, but never with my kids on the big screen and it's one of my favorite animated films ever

The Guilt Trip - looks insanely funny, who doesn't love Seth Rogen?

Gangster Squad - Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn, need I say more?

This Is 40 - because who doesn't love Paul Rudd?

And these aren't even counting the movies that are already out that I need yet to see. Skyfall. Lincoln. Life of Pi. Rise of the Guardians. Red Dawn. Hitchcock.

Maybe I should just ask for movie tickets for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No more SSS

Today is usually the day I sign up for Six Sentence Sunday, but I've decided that I won't be doing it this week. I'm too busy right now to do the rounds like I should, and with the hop ending at the end of January, I'm going to have to find something new for Sundays anyway.

There's talk something might get organized separately from SSS, but I don't know what it might be. I think I'll end up doing something similar on my own, just posting a snippet and highlighting backlist titles on a regular basis. Who knows at this point? Maybe it'll be something completely different.

Right now, I just need to survive Christmas, lol.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Being an introvert

People who have met me in person usually think one of two things. That either I'm incredibly quiet or I'm incredibly talkative. Very rarely is it something in between. But how can that be? It's seems dichotomous at best.

It's easy. I'm an introvert. I am, by nature, a solitary, quiet person. However, put me one on one with someone I trust and a topic I'm passionate about, and I turn into Chatty Cathy. I have a friend who I only ever saw in a single environment when it was only the two of us. We would talk and laugh for hours until someone else reminded us of the time. The first time she invited me to a party at her house? She commented to me afterward that she worried I wasn't having a good time, because I'd been so quiet. She'd literally never seen me like that before, so it took her aback to realize I wasn't so outgoing all the time.

I can be shy, too, but I'm more heartily driven by my introversion. There was an article recently that detailed the differences between the two, complete with a list of signs to see how you fare. I wasn't surprised to hit all the marks. A lot of people don't get it, honestly. My kids don't. They see me social and bubbly with a select few, and then can't understand why I don't choose to be like that everywhere.

But I'm happy with my own company a lot of the time. I like my quiet. I think a lot of writers are like that, though. It helps to hear the voices of all those characters in your head.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Welcome to my SSS! I'm featuring my RT Award Nominee, the het paranormal/time travel-ish erotic romance, Two Lives in Waltz Time. Maddy and Cash have been sucked into a 1940s private club milieu where Maddy's a dancer, Cash is the bouncer, and the whole world thinks they're engaged. Cash and Maddy are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Maddy and Cash had sex. This is the morning after, when Maddy wakes early and tries to get up without disturbing Cash.

She was stopped from rising by his fingers curling around her arm.

“I already woke up one morning without you in my bed. I don't want to do it again.”

Something warmed in Maddy's stomach, and she leaned to brush a soft kiss across his mouth. His arm snaked around her waist, drawing her back to lie on top of him.

“Stay,” he breathed into the kiss.

To check out all the other six sentence contributions, head over to the official website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

For the booklover

I'm in the throes of Christmas planning, and I thought I had all my gift shopping done when NPR ran a piece this morning on eye-catching reads for the book lover on your list.

Guess who's going to Barnes & Noble this morning?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Welcome to my SSS! For the next two months, I'm featuring my RT Award Nominee, the het paranormal/time travel-ish erotic romance, Two Lives in Waltz Time. Maddy and Cash have been sucked into a 1940s private club milieu where Maddy's a dancer, Cash is the bouncer, and the whole world thinks they're engaged. Cash and Maddy are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Maddy and Cash had sex, but when Cash fell asleep afterward, he had a nightmare about his past. Maddy woke him out of it, but he refused to talk about it. Instead, he coaxes her into the shower, where she takes control.

“It would kill me if something happened to you and I knew I could've stopped it,” he whispered.

“I know.”

Her mouth dotted kisses along his spine, while her hands continued lathering his chest. Cash lowered his head to protect his body from the shower's torrent, and for what seemed forever, the world vanished, leaving behind only the close quarters of the steam shrouding them in its dusky caress. Tenderness fused them together, his body singing with heat, his mind clearing of the detritus of his nightmare.

And then it was no longer enough.

To check out all the other six sentence contributions, head over to the official website.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tell me a story...

Short post today, because I want everybody to go read this article on the science of storytelling. It explains why people remember things better when they're told stories as opposed to seeing bullet points.

I'd guess most writers already knew that, though I still find the science behind it fascinating. :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

PBS remixes Reading Rainbow

I was already a teenager when it launched, but any show, children's or otherwise, that promotes books and imagination is a winner in my book. Reading Rainbow was on the air for 23 years, inspiring children and adults alike, and PBS just did one of their infamous remixes with it.

Watch. I dare you not to smile.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Iron Eyes

I have writing progress news! My story for the upcoming steampunk pax at Amber Allure is now in and accounted for, so I can spread the news on what it's about.

My story is called Iron Eyes, and is a 35k m/m erotic romance set in 1922. My return to writing is hallmarked by a lot of nostalgic contemporary fiction, lol. I have one in the 20s, one in the 30s, and one in the 50s, all coming out in a two-month period.

Here's the blurb:

For three years, Cap Kaufman has been trying to make amends to his war buddy’s orphaned daughter. Building her a safe home. Finding her the best nanny. Now, he’s kidnapped the man her doctor says is her best bet for fixing her blindness.
When Hector Lanza wakes up on a boat in the middle of nowhere, he’s confronted by a man determined to get his own way. He has no choice but to play along and wait for his chance to escape. What he doesn’t count on is learning to respect the man who uprooted him from everything he knew, all for the love of a child.
For Hector, it’s a challenge. For Cap, it’s penance. For both of them…a chance for love. All it takes is opening their eyes to see what’s right in front of them.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Welcome to my SSS! For the next two months, I'm featuring my RT Award Nominee, the het paranormal/time travel-ish erotic romance, Two Lives in Waltz Time. Maddy and Cash have been sucked into a 1940s private club milieu where Maddy's a dancer, Cash is the bouncer, and the whole world thinks they're engaged. Cash and Maddy are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Since it's taken so long to get Maddy and Cash together, the six today is from the same scene as last week's. Just...later on, after Cash's words have worked their magic on her.

...He pressed her back down into the mattress, his strokes becoming increasingly insistent, but when he unexpectedly let go of her wrists, Maddy hesitated.

“Touch me,” Cash ordered.

It was what she had wanted since they'd walked into the room. Pushing past the red haze that seemed to be slowing her movements, Maddy raked her nails up his arms, to his shoulders, careful to avoid his injury from the previous night as she found the nape of his neck. He shuddered, trembled, moaned as he returned to her mouth.

“You wondrous woman,” he whispered.

To check out all the other six sentence contributions, head over to the official website.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Joss speaks out

I've decided I am never going to recover from that session with that trainer. All my aching muscles seem to be affecting my brain, because I was struggling with writing all day.

The perfect day to read Joss Whedon's 10 tips on writing, then. Sure, he's talking about screenplays, but a lot of what he says holds true for other media, too. Go take a look at it. It's totally worth it.

And I don't just say that because Joss is my god, lol.