Perhaps a New Start

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers! I hope this year brings you many things — good health, good friends, love and great books! To start the year off, I thought I’d offer you an excerpt and a little insight into one of my main characters: Milo.

In 14 days, What it Takes will be hitting the shelves (so to speak), and I wanted to share a little bit about the book with you guys. A theme in What it Takes seems very apropos for this day: new beginnings, fresh starts, and goodbyes.

Personally, I don’t make New Years resolutions. I stopped years ago after I had a particularly bad period in my life and realized that making a promise on one day that I was bound to forget or let go of wasn’t as effective in changing my life and going in the direction I *needed* to go for healing and peace. So I made myself a promise that *every day* could be a new one. I forget this all the time, but when I remember, this is a time when I can take a breath and remind myself that this moment is a new start. I generally focus this energy on a desire to be a kinder person and to do my best at achieving my goals.

Milo and I share many things. We come from similar family pasts, and many of his struggles are things I went through. As well, a lot of the way he shaped his healing as an adult was inspired by my own journey in letting go of particular demons and healing. Perhaps my journey took longer and had a lot more painful steps, but I tried hard to give Milo genuine healing and coping skills.

One of the hardest things we have to do in life to heal or to grow past a painful past is to allow ourselves to let go and to move forward. Sometimes this means saying goodbye: to a person, to a place, to a dream, to a resentment. Doesn’t have to be all, but the message is the same.

Milo’s father’s death is a big turning point for him. It’s a place in his life where he can chose to go in many directions. Where the biggest source of his trauma is no longer physically present. In the following scene, we see the beginning of that conversation between Milo and Andrew, in which they talk about the opportunity this moment presents Milo and what that could mean for his future. Which goodbyes might be good for him, and what things might not be able to let go of.

~*~

Light filters between the ill-fitted boards cobbling their fort together; it filters through the trees from afar, registering as a small twinkle until he comes close enough to see clearly. There’s a blanket over the open square that was the lookout window. Milo can’t help but think that nothing has changed, yet nothing is the same because he’s not the same boy who built this sanctuary and walked through the framed door into a world of make-believe Andrew could always craft so easily and vividly.

Milo clears his throat before stepping in. Andrew is sitting with his legs curled in the far corner, huddled into a fleece blanket. A lantern casts light and shadows around the small room. It’s small enough that there’s not enough room to sit without bumping knees or feet.

Andrew’s sleepy-eyed and mussed; he looks small under the blanket that envelops him.

“How long have you been here?” Milo asks, keeping his voice low.

“I don’t know,” Andrew whispers back. His lips tremble in the cold. Milo moves to get closer, but Andrew gestures him back. Milo settles back with a sigh.

“It’s not that I don’t—” Andrew tips up a shoulder, and his face is rueful. “I thought we should talk.”

Milo wraps himself in his own blanket, covers the lantern and knocks it over. Once he’s untangled and righted it, he’s temporarily blinded by the direct glare. He blinks; when he looks around he notices how much darker the walls are than he remembers.

“Hey,” he says softly, nudging Andrew’s knee. “You painted.”

Andrew looks up, and Milo can see him swallowing. “Yeah, I did.”

“When?”

“When I came home for the long weekend in October.” Andrew’s fingers trail down the wall. In the night, the walls look black except where the lantern reveals a deep blue. Above his head are scatters of light pricks and moons and planets.

“Finding your way?” Milo jokes lightly. Andrew has always found his way by the stars, not using standard constellation maps, but his own visions.

“Searching for Cygnus,” Andrew says. Milo’s not sure which one that is, only that the irony in his tone means something.

They don’t say anything, letting the night settle over their tiny retreat like its own blanket. Milo lets this place, a place that was always theirs—one that they’ve outgrown—settle him. He dropped out of sleep heavily; that something’s missing feeling startled him until he realized it was Andrew. That disoriented him even more.

He takes time, now, to look him over. That uneasy sense that they’ve both changed irrevocably in the months since September has dissipated. Andrew doesn’t look any different—he’s the boy Milo has always known. Well, man. They’re supposed to be men now, forging into adult lives away from school and their parents.

“I can’t tell what I’m feeling,” Andrew says.

“Yeah, I’m sort of there myself.”

“It’s cold. This is dumb,” Andrew opens his blanket and arranges himself, inviting Milo to share his body heat. They shuffle and tangle until they’re perfectly fitted in a space a shade too small. This is the shape of my childhood, too tight around me. But Andrew makes it okay.

“Are you okay?” Milo asks.

“Of course I am.” There’s a tiny thread suggesting otherwise in the words, though.

“How is this going to work?”

Andrew’s fingers slide between Milo’s, tracing the beds of his fingernails and the palm of his hand. “I think you have to say goodbye.”

“I didn’t mean home. I meant us.”

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

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Reader questions!

I am so excited that my book is out in your hands now, and that you all have questions! I have a new shiny Ask Me Things! button up on the link bar at the top of the page, so if you have any questions, ask away!!

For now, I have a question from a reader (that’s a thrilling phrase!)

Hi Jude – I read and loved your book! I couldn’t put it down. I did have a couple of questions though. I sort of felt like there could be a sequel – do you have any plans for more with Wren and Cam? And also, I sort of felt like Peyton and Cam might have been ‘gifted’ themselves, and maybe Peyton knew but Cam had no idea, which is why she travels so much. Am I reading too much into it? Again, the book is amazing! -Slayerkitty

First of all, thank you so much, I am so glad you liked it!

This book definitely comes to a close at a natural ending point in one arc of Wren and Cam’s lives and relationships. It’s a coming of age story, but the funny thing about coming of age is that, in my experience, it is a thing that slowly happens in waves. And it’s happening to all of the characters in this book. There’s so much of their stories left to tell! I would love to revisit that in the future, and should the time and opportunity present themselves, I’ll definitely be addressing Cam and Peyton’s stories further. For now, I’ll leave you with a hint: the author Q&A at the end of Hush has one, and an invitation to let your imagination take you anywhere you’d like….

 

Meet Wren Allister

“Wren is a wildfire – mobile, blazing and ferocious, hurt and dangerous. He’s closed off and untrusting but kind at his core, careful of others and even more careful of himself. He’s beautiful and loving and experienced but he’s terrified with it.”- Penelope Henson

Wren Allister, what can I say…. Wren was one of those characters that was delicious and heartbreaking to write. To start, Wren is really, really beautiful. If I could coax a character from any book and into my bed…or arms…something — it would be Wren.

Physically, he’s gorgeous. True jet back hair, changeable green eyes, lovely skin. He’s shorter than Cam — about 5’9, which is perfect for me because I’m pretty short.

Wren is a lovely mix of personality traits. He has a playful side; he doesn’t have much opportunity in this book to show it, but you see it in some of his accessories, such as these elephant plugs:

Wren is very sensual, and not just in terms of sex — although his is very confident and comfortable with his sexual self. I had fun decorating his room and apartment with things that were soft and comfortable and comforting, because Wren enjoys these things a lot too. Likewise, I loved dressing Wren, because he dresses, often, exactly how he feels.

Wren is a mystery to Cam throughout most of the book. He’s very careful to only give Cam certain sides of his personality, and to only express his need in very controlled ways. The way he dresses is just one hint of the things he feels that Cam can use to build a concept of who Wren really is.  There are moments when he lets his guard down, or that Cam — who is so naturally observant and watchful — sees, when Wren’s sweetness comes through, despite all of his efforts to hide it. Wren has also experienced heartbreak: the kind that leaves someone with incredible insecurity and a lot of pain. He has a tremendous amount of love to give, and a pile of issues that inform the ways in which he interact with men.

There are many dichotomous ways I could describe Wren for you, but I feel as though Henson captured him so eloquently in the quote above.  For more insight into my characters I could never have put into so few words, you can find her review here.

If you want a glimpse at my Wrenspirations, you can check out my Wren board on pintrest. There’s a lot of fun clothing and some beautiful pictures of the man who was the base look for who Wren became. Much thanks to Pene Henson for the lovely review.


Hush is currently available for pre-order at Interlude Press and will be released May 19th. For a chance to win a free copy, head over here!

Meet Cam Vargas

The boy who stole my heart but confused the fuck out of me while doing it.

Cam is the first character we meet in Hush — he was the first character I wrote, and boy did I fall hard for him. But I didn’t understand him and it took me a long time to figure out why. In the end it seems simple: because he didn’t understand himself. Writing Cam’s journey was an honor and a terrifying responsibility for many reasons. The boy he is at the start of the book is not who he transforms into.

There are two things about Cam that I really wanted to share with you guys today. First, that there were qualities I knew he had from the start that reminded me of my late father. As the book progressed, I really got to help unfold a character who had a very special capability for love and resilience that my father had. People with these qualities – intangible faith in love and caring in all forms — are very special and rare. Because I saw this in Cam, I wanted to give him some of my roots as well, or at least bits of my life and my father’s life. Thinking of my father, and the importance of my heritage, I chose to make Cam’s parents Venezuelan. Cam is born in Nebraska, but his parents were both born in Venezuela. We don’t see a lot of his parents in this book, but I did have an opportunity to share a tiny bit of my own culture in this book that makes me ridiculously happy: when Cam goes home and his mother makes him arepas.

Despite the tensions in his own family, the idea of a family meal steeped in cultural roots was important to me. There was a period of time when I was in high school through post college grad when my Abuela, my uncles, my twin cousins, my sister, my father and I lived together. Sometimes one or two of us were off somewhere, but there was always this sort of core. Some of the best, happiest memories of my life happened over a family meal at my father’s large round dinning room tables. Arepa Sundays were epic — and I suspect a deciding factor for my  husband in wanting to marry in!

In a very short period of time I lost my father, uncle and Abuela. With that, our little family scattered a bit, but whenever we have a chance to see our cousins again, the first thing we plan is an Arepa Sunday (even if it happens to happen on a Thursday). This family tradition was one part of Venezuela that my family held on to, and that we have all carried on with.

It’s a small moment in Hush, but it was put in there with a lot of love!

Aside from delicious food, I do hope you all enjoy meeting Cam. He’s special, he’s a work in progress. He can be dense but is intensely loyal. He’s a wonderful dichotomy of quiet, still waters with a deeply sensual and kind of naughty streak no one, least of all him, suspects.

Until Wren Allister comes into his life.

P.S.: I was going to give you more detailed character stuff, but the squirrel in my got distracted by the talk of food and by all of my feeeeels. Oh well. You can find out all about him in Hush!

~*~

Hush is currently available for pre-order at Interlude Press and will be released May 19th. For a chance to win a free copy, head over here.

Risk vs. Reward

My goal with this author blog (well one) has been to try to update at least once a week, talk about craft, get chatty about process, and as we get closer and closer to the big day, let you know more about the book. So my apologies for spectacular fail last week.

The good news, while I left a few of you hanging, assuming you are that invested, is that the reason I was MIA was because I was burning the midnight candle completing the second draft of my manuscript, just in time for a little break before I dive into a third read before my due date (8/18, so close!). There are still a couple of scenes to be written, the most important of which take place in Nebraska, a state I almost nothing about. I do have someone helping me with that part, we’re just working on coordinating schedules to really nail down details before I tackle that piece. Plus, character development wise, it gives us a really important background context and insight into why one of our main characters functions as he does throughout the novel even as he’s going through many, many changes. 

Oooh lookie! I gave you guys a little hint: nameless character has ties to Nebraska. I’m sure this leaves you salivating for more (she says sarcastically, which is really not a great look on me, I don’t pull it off well). If you looked closely at the lovely picture I tweeted the other week, you can also find some character names spoiled there. I’ll leave you to ponder with bated breath which one of them is from where. Oh! In reading an old blog post, I realize I did drop a character name, so I’ll unveil my darling Cam. I won’t tell if where he’s from though. 

I’ve been thinking, as I closed out the end of this story draft and writing out the final scenes, about what themes I could really pinpoint in this story. I am *terrible* at summarizing and boiling down and such for my own work because I can be very tied to all the nuanced details and threads that I think are so important to the story. They all seem relevant m’kay?? 

I spoke in one of my first blog posts about avian30’s Dream It, Do It challenge, and a novel theme I’d been working on: taking chances. But when I’d think about the boys I have here and their process over the almost three years their story unfolds, I realized it is not just that they need to take chances, but also weight the potential costs and benefits of taking big risks. 

In our lives, we’re often presented with choices that don’t have easy answers, no guarantees that one path will truly pan out to be the best course of action. Perhaps both seem overwhelming, or frightening, or carry the impending weight of difficult changes that must be taken. Often the cost just cannot be calculated. Maybe as we decide to travel in one direction, we’ll have to let go of something: something we’ve wanted, held dear, a perception of who we were or thought we were going to be. These are moments when taking stock of putting ourselves out there will be worth that risk, if the potential payoff will actually, you know, pay off. And then, for many of us, there’s going to be a grieving process for the thing we knew, the thing we didn’t chose; even if we perceive that we ultimately made the right choice. That’s not even to speak of times we realize that we’ve made the wrong choice.

Now I can’t tell you if these boys make the right or wrong choices throughout the book — that’s a journey I’d love for you to embark on with them. 

I would love though, to talk with you guys about times in your life when you were faced with a choice that carried risk. Did it pan out? Did it not? How did you handle that process? 

If you’d like to chat, I’d love to respond to asks and messages on the topic; anyone want to come play?