Beautiful Staples, Building Roots.

summer-breaks-2

“Asher, tell me what you used to do,” Tyler says one night.Work is done; they’re sitting in the breakroom and eating, finally. Tyler is starving. While it’s encouraging, from a business standpoint, that he had no chance to take a break and eat because they were busy, he does need food. Asher took one look at his face and made him dinner. Claudia wandered out as soon as she’d finished her work, which is not unusual. Tyler usually thinks he’ll go too as soon as work is done, but often he finds himself lingering. Lately, even with his friends, Tyler feels lonely. He’s not able to put his finger on a reason, other than that he feels changed. He’s still the driven boy who worked his way through college, but he’s now driven in a different direction. He gets the impression that his work in a restaurant seems transient and directionless to those who’ve known him all along.

“Um…” Asher puts his fork down and thinks. “We used to go to the cider mill.”

“Seriously?” Tyler struggles not to laugh. Sometimes it’s crazy, the reminders of how different their worlds are. They’ve lived in the same area for their whole lives, and yet Tyler is amazed at how different their experiences are. The culture gap between the city and the suburbs is absurd sometimes.

“Yeah.” Asher lifts a shoulder. He rolls his eyes playfully. “It was fun. We’d pick apples. John loved making apple spice muffins.” Asher looks down.

“What?” Tyler prompts.

Asher shakes his head. “I don’t know. I haven’t eaten those muffins in years. They were my favorite. He’d…” Tyler stays still. “He used to wake me up with them. He’d bring a plate into the room to me.”

Tyler bites his lip. He’s never experienced the loss Asher has. By the time Tyler’s father left them it was a relief. He’d felt heartbroken over the pain he’d put Tyler’s family through, yes, but not the loss. Tyler is by no means unfeeling, but he’d never realized how long the sharp ache of grief might last.

“You don’t have to talk to me about this if you aren’t comfortable,” Tyler says when the silence carries, “but I hope you know I want to be here to hear you.”

“Thank you.” Asher’s eyes are everywhere but on Tyler. He takes a deep breath. “It’s not… I don’t know. Missing John isn’t like it used to be. I don’t want to say I’m used to it, but I do feel as though I’ve moved past it. Or I did think so.”

“Did?”

“I’ve been remembering him more lately.” Asher picks up his fork and pushes his food around, then puts it down. “I guess I was so busy or lost in work I didn’t let myself think about things.”

“I’m sorry. I’m always asking questions.”

“No.” Asher looks at him. “I should… I should want to let myself remember the good things, right?”

“Yeah. I think so,” Tyler says. In Asher’s eyes is an honest sadness; so much was laid open. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

Asher is one of the most closed off people Tyler’s ever known; the way he’s slowly unfolding is revelatory. “For trusting me enough to talk to me about this.”

“I wonder if I have that recipe.”

“Why? You gonna make them?” Tyler asks.

“I don’t know. Maybe.” This time Asher does take a bite of his food.

“Maybe I’ll go pick some apples. Get some real cider and bring it back. We can all have some spiced cider.”

“Real cider?” Tyler asks.

“You know, the unpasteurized kind that doesn’t taste like cloudy apple juice.”

“I’ve never had cider,” Tyler admits. Asher looks at him. “Never done any of that shit.”

“Want to?” Asher asks, then looks as if he wishes he hadn’t. Tyler wants to touch his hand but doesn’t.

“Yeah.” Tyler wants to get Asher out of Idlewild. Wants to coax those smiles and enjoy the sense of waking he sees come over Asher from time to time. “I’m down.”


Yesterday, my family got the news that the apple orchard my family has been getting our fall apples and Halloween pumpkins at for years has been sold to a home developer. This orchard holds countless memories for my family — my boys cried when they found out. I love this place: the pictures in this aesthetic are ones I and others have taken while there. It’s not fancy, but it’s fun.

It was also the inspiration for Asher and Tyler’s first trip to pick apples together. Which, of course, led to the apple muffin scene (blog post titled, ahem, Idlewild Food Porn Sneak Peek).  In my mind, I’d envisioned this being a place they would go to every year much as we do. They would take their kids and build memories and this, like so many beautiful staples of Michigan life, would be one of their roots. Luckily, I suppose, these men live in a make believe world where they can exist in perpetuity. Maybe I’ll write them, one day, taking one of their children there for the first time, and I’ll get to hold on to that little bit.

Although, yes, above isn’t the actual scene in the book where they go to the orchard, the importance of those moments and that story building is here. Tyler learning how to understand Asher’s grief. Asher beginning to let himself reconnect to his former life and self — beginning his journey to healing. Tyler and Asher beginning to build something they don’t have a name for just yet.


My novels, Hush, What it Takes and Idlewild are all available for purchase through multiple retailers (links on my book page).

Idlewild Cut Chapter

copy-of-summer-breaksIt’s a New Year already for some, and for others, it’s on the horizon. Want to ring in the New Year with some bonus materials? Here you go! This was originally Chapter 20 of Idlewild. We get to meet Asher’s parents and get some insight into Asher’s relationship with his  faith. Laura Stone (who writes amazing books y’all) described Asher as “a roll-your-sleeves-up kind of you-can’t-tell-me-what-to do person” which is totally true. This chapter gives us a taste of those origins.


“Asher,” Tyler says, swinging through the door, “there’s a couple out in the restaurant asking for you.”

“Regulars?” Asher asks without looking at him.

“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen them before,” Tyler says he picks up and puts down a paperweight that’s on the desktop. He rifles through some papers and shuffles them around before putting them back down. Asher leans back in his chair and watches him. Tyler has seemed a little off ever since he went to his mother’s for dinner last week, and Asher can’t put his finger on what it is. He thinks that normally he’d ask, but with everything new between them and undefined, the ground between them is boggy and unstable. He waits for Tyler to look him in the eyes but he doesn’t.

“And they want me?”  Asher asks

“That’s what they said,” Tyler says.

“Alrighty-then.” Asher stands brushes past him on his way out of the office. Asher would be the first to admit that he doesn’t understand what is going on between them. But he wants to. While that push and pull between them usually exciting, some days it’s confusing. When they’re together Asher feels more alive than he has in years. Tyler is addictive; no matter how many times Asher says he’s going to sit him down to talk and figure this thing out, Tyler touches him and what he’s told himself is right dissipates under those finger; Tyler seems the most right thing in these moments. But he hesitates to push Tyler emotionally, afraid that he might spook him or break some spell. Instead he waits quietly and watches.

Asher doesn’t spare a thought for who the couple may be, which he berates himself for as soon as gets to the front of house. Sitting in a booth tucked into the front corner by the window are his parents. His father is slowly sipping a mug of his usual straight up coffee; black, no sugar and no cream. His mother has her hands folded neatly on the table as she watches the thin crowd of Christmas sightseers stream past the window.

He wonders what it took for his father to convince her to come out here. What she’s thinking right now. If she feels safe, how threatened by her memories of Detroit, as well as the memories she’s been handed by her family throughout her life.

“Hey! What are you doing here?” he asks, infuse his tone with happiness. He must not do a very good job. His father’s mouth turns down a little bit; it’s part rueful and part displeased. Isaac Schenck’s face was always the most expressive Asher had ever seen – until he met Tyler. His father can appear both happy and sad. Confused. Angry…any number of things, and often all at once. He’s terrible about talking about his feelings however. Either he thinks his face does enough talking, or he can’t control it.

Still Asher slides into the booth next to his mother. He smiles when the familiar scent of her favorite perfume, floral and vanilla, wraps around him. They both look well; his father’s hair thins more and more every time he sees him, but his lean frame is healthy and fit. His mother, Julie, is still tiny and lovely with soft curves and rich brown hair it is shorter.

“We’ve come to give you a little belated Hanukah present,” his mother says. She rifles through her oversized purse until she finds two flat packages. They’re wrapped in blue and white paper; the corner of one has torn, a little damaged in transit. Asher’s smile is automatic; he hadn’t expected this. He had toyed with the idea of driving out to West Bloomfield to see his parents for a night or perhaps a meal but hadn’t pick up the phone to make those plans.

He picks up the package. “Thank you,” Asher says. He opens the present gently, lifting the tape with a careful finger and trying not to damage the paper. It’s a habit born of many years of his mother trying to save paper to reuse it. She always hated the idea of all that pretty paper going to waste. The care is useless — the paper is already torn — but still he does it. In his mother’s presence he becomes a little boy again.

Inside he finds a bag of Hanukah gelt and two CD’s. His parents have never caught up to the idea that CDs have mostly phased out, that now everybody stored their music on various kinds of technology. His computer doesn’t have a DVD drive. This is music he’ll never listen to either.

But that’s okay because it is the thought that counts. His parents have made the effort, his mom has come down into a city she’s terrified of. He could count on both hands the number of times his mother has been here as long as he remembers. She grew up in Detroit as a girl, and yet he has no stories of hers from that time.

Although he had not expected his parents and although he knew there was a slight chance – the slightest chance – that he would go to see them, he’s glad now that he decided to get them presents, even if he planned on mailing them.

“If you’ll give me a minute I’ll run upstairs and get your presents,” he says. This makes his father smile. Maybe it’s because Asher is extending a little bit of thoughtfulness and care. Asher has withheld himself and his own love from his parents. As a child – and if he admits as a teenager and young man – he always ached for his father’s unconditional love, but thought it wasn’t granted. He came to understand, especially with John’s guidance, that it wasn’t unconditional love he was searching for. It was a sense of family that he always longed for without understanding why, or what. Perhaps it was influence of television and media of stories told by his friends of what parenting and love and a home should feel like.

Asher was incredibly lucky to find this with John, and perhaps he should have been able to extend the kindness he found there to his parents. His coming out was very difficult for them and it had been a struggle for them to figure out how to put their faith together with who he was. Their own reconciliation between their Jewish faith and their desire to provide a community that would still welcome him took a long time; too long for a scared teenage boy. As an adult he can recognize the complexity of unconditional love because his parents chose to change everything about the way they understood the world in order to support him. But watching that struggle while in the middle of his own very painful fight was isolating for him as a teenager. Asher still practiced and believed then, but he recognizes that this was when he started to feel a rift with his faith.

Asher passes through the kitchen at a fast clip. He waves to Claudia when she starts to talk to him to stave her off. He thunders up the stairs and when he gets to his room he has to rifle through many things in order to find the presents. Apparently he had had them in the plastic set of drawers where he keeps his clothes. In his hurry he causes a few out to tumble out, messing up the rest. But he smiles. Just knowing that the clothes were folded means Tyler’s been through his laundry again, which warms him. He’s not sure if Tyler’s interference is a comment on his own housekeeping skills, but he recognizes Tyler’s innate desire to make people happy as well as to make order out of his world. Tyler told him recently how much he loves Asher’s smell. Imagining Tyler holding his shirt to catch the slightest lingering smell curls, lovely and welcome, in his stomach. It closeness that goes beyond quick fucks and fleeting touches.

The present he bought for his parents aren’t wrapped yet and Asher has no wrapping paper. He searches for some newspaper though he’s perfectly aware his mother won’t appreciate that. He doesn’t have much choice but to carry them down unwrapped.

Asher sits again and hands his father his gift – a Tigers baseball hat – and hands his mother the bottle of Joop! perfume. Whenever he catches that scent in the restaurant or in a store, he thinks of her with fondness. This year has made this nostalgia stronger than resentment.

“I’m sorry they’re not wrapped,” he says.

“That’s fine honey,” his mother says. “This is so thoughtful. I was almost out of it.”

“Thank you son,” his father says. He looks into Asher’s eyes and it’s clear it’s sincere.

There’s a moment of easiness after Asher give them the presents. They make comfortable small talk until Asher decides to ask if they want to stay to eat.

“Sure honey. That would be nice,” his mother says. His father wants to argue but he takes a breath and then nods.

From across the restaurant he can see Claudia and Tyler behind the bar chatting while Tyler wipes down the bottles and sets them back on the shelves. The restaurant isn’t too busy – only about a quarter full. When Tyler catches his eye, Asher nods him over. Tyler grabs two menus then threads through the tables toward them lightly and gracefully. Asher has watched his body for months; it’s a marvel – awkward and off with a rhythm when he dances, but still somehow eye-catching. In moments when he’s not over-thinking and when he’s completely unselfconscious there’s a fluid loveliness to the way he moves his limbs.

“Hello folks!” Tyler says brightly. “How are we all doing today?”

Oh, Asher is so smitten. He hates to use that word: he’s a 32 year old man — almost 10 years older than Tyler — and that’s not at all what this was meant to be. But Tyler’s charisma can’t be denied. He never speaks like this when he’s not on the floor. His body language is so different. Tyler’s changeability intrigues Asher more than he cares to admit. So many times he thinks that Tyler is a puzzle to be taken apart or to be put back together; Asher is never quite sure and that keeps him so interested.

Immediately he sees that his father has a reaction to Tyler. Asher is so comfortable with and used to the way that Tyler carries himself; the light lilting sweetness to his voice, the way he holds his hands and smiles when he talks. He can’t imagine anyone meeting Tyler and not assuming that he’s gay. For a man with so many facets, there are some Tyler rarely changes.

Asher loves that.

But it’s the sort of thing that his father has a terrible time hiding a reaction to. It had taken so much for him to accept Asher – so much more work for him that was for his mother. But Asher was in no way obvious. He never had to hide that about himself.

Before Asher can say anything though, Tyler sees it. Maybe it’s a slight stiffening and his father’s limbs or the face he almost disguises but quite catch. It’s fascinating how Tyler’s posture immediately changes. He hands out the menus and when he speaks again there’s a subtle difference, the light lisp is gone and the way he shapes his speech so that it has a completely different cadence. Perhaps it’s only obvious to Asher because he spends so much time with Tyler. He hopes his parents won’t catch the difference, but he does. It makes him sad and so resentful yet again. He resists the urge to confront his father

Asher holds his tongue and takes a deep breath. Gives his parents a moment to peruse the menu. Tyler asks if they need suggestions and points out his favorite. His mother smiles and orders that. His father does not. When Tyler walks away it’s as if he’s a different man. At the bar Claudia must have been watching them; Asher can tell by her eyebrows and her still hands are holding the damp rag Tyler has been using to wipe the bottles.

Asher tears his gaze away back to find his father examining him. Really looking, as if he can see what Asher’s been thinking. For one wild moment Asher wants to lay everything bare, to embarrass him. There’s knowing on paper that someone is gay and then knowing that a person actually does gay things. That he does them with men like Tyler, who he finds unbearably sexy, who he finds sweet and captivating and who draws him so often, a moth helpless to flame. When they’re together all Asher can think about is how beautiful Tyler is when he submits to his own pleasure.

Claudia brings their food out, for which Asher is glad. Asher hopes Tyler’s choice not to come back out and to put some distance between the perceptions others place on his body, the slightest violence that people’s judgement and dislike do when they land on his skin and worm their way into his heart. Asher remembers fighting that feeling in his own home; months and months of struggle with his identity with a knowledge that eventually he could longer hide who he was. But Asher’s had a whole hell of a lot of privilege in his natural presentation. Men like Tyler often suffer microaggressions from the moment of a first glance.

Asher does his best to wind up their lunch, impatient to leave the table. He does love his parents, but he has a limit. Seeing his father’s reaction to Tyler has not helped. He’s glad that his parents came and that they had a small moment to reconnect, but he wants them out of the bar now. Idlewild is safe space that he and John created. The pride sticker on the door and a staff that won’t compromise should indicate that. Asher is always mild mannered but he has asked patrons who make homophobic comments or behaved in particularly degrading or hurtful ways toward any member of his staff to leave immediately. He can’t be as harsh with his father as that, but he has to resist the strong urge to do so.


This year has been difficult in so many ways. But I’ve been lucky to start the year publishing a book I’m very proud of (What it Takes) and ending the year publishing this book. The support I get from my publisher (Interlude Press) and from readers and friends is priceless. Thank you all for coming on this ride with me!

Many thanks to Naomi Tajedler for double checking this passage.


Hush, What it Takes and Idlewild are all available for purchase through multiple retailers (links on my book page). Order through Interlude Press for an upgrade on shipping.

 

Holiday cheer and a little fuck you to the establishment

If you need a last-minute gift for US domestic delivery, we’ll upgrade your shipping to Priority Mail at no expense through 5pm ET on December 21st. Need it gift wrapped? Just tell us. We’ll wrap it for free! Shipping upgrade is limited to available...It’s the perfect time of year for gift giving. Even if you aren’t a holiday person, as 2016 draws to a close, I think it’s safe to say that giving people the gift of love stories and happy endings wouldn’t come amiss! Interlude Press is now offering shipping upgrades (priority mail, no charge) AND offering gift wrapping.

In all seriousness, for many people things have been tense and frightening in recent news. I know I’ve felt defeated at times. I almost gave up in the middle of writing a new story I love in November.

Thankfully, several very wise women advised me: now is the time more than ever. It is the time to celebrate diversity, to influence change through support, to refuse to be quiet, to give up on love and freedom of expression.

There is a lot of really beautiful fiction out there for us all to read and to savor. And I have to tell you, small presses are excellent places to find diverse stories by diverse authors. They are giving authors opportunities and letting them take risks, and I encourage readers to support each other, authors, and small presses. I mean, that’s a lovely little fuck off to those who want to silence us.

I am proud to say that all of my books are representative of diversity in some way: Cam, my MC in Hush is Venezuelan (like my father, I really wanted a bit of that heritage in here). Milo, from What it Takes suffers from anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD (as I do).

I’m particularly proud of Idlewild, my newest release: when I set out to write this story, I new it would be about class and race, about the complexities of gentrification and Detroit’s history. I knew I was going to write an interracial love story. I had no idea that the timing of this novel would feel so apt and so empowering.

I am a Latinx author. I am bi, I am a woman. I’ve been told no for many, many reasons. I’ve been told that what I do is disgusting, dirty, shameful.

I wrote a LGBT, interracial love story with a black, genderqueer character and a Jewish character, and it was named a Kirkus Best Romance of 2016.  I didn’t write this story because I felt that we needed a representative black character in romance, or to throw in some genderqueer spice (yes, ew, I have heard that said). I wrote a story about people: people I see around me, love stories I see around me, the fucking diverse and subversive, those who want a happy ending, or whose happy ending is a middle finger at the establishment. All of us. 

~*~

Hush, What it Takes and Idlewild are all available for purchase through multiple retailers (links on my book page). Order through Interlude Press for an upgrade on shipping.

 

 

Ahhh, tension, the spice of life

Sexual tension? Romantic tension? Who’s the odd man out here tension? Are you a solo-city saver tension? Why is Tyler a control freak tension?

A little of this, a little of that, stay tuned for more….

~*~

“Honey, this is Asher. Asher, this is our friend Brandon, and this is Malik,” Tyler says brightly.

“Hey,” Malik says. His smile seems genuine and his handshake natural. He doesn’t do that extra-strong handshake guys sometimes do. Asher hates it when guys do that. Posturing annoys him.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Asher says and means it. He shakes Brandon’s hand and remembers that this is Tyler’s other roommate. He doesn’t talk about him much, other than to complain about the mess he leaves behind in the apartment. Sometimes Asher has a degree of sympathy for Malik and Brandon. He doesn’t think of himself as a terribly messy person, but he doesn’t have Tyler’s constant need to put things in order.

“So what brings you out tonight?” Asher asks. Apparently everything he says tonight is going to be clumsy.

“Just wanted to see what the fuss is about,” Malik says. He tugs on Tyler’s hand to get him to sit. Tyler darts his eyes over at Asher to be sure it’s okay.

“I’d give you a tour, but this is pretty much it,” Asher offers. Luckily they seem to get that he’s joking. Sometimes people don’t.

“You picked a great time,” Tyler says. “The rush is over, finally.”

“Why don’t you take your break now,” Asher offers. Technically Tyler should be off, but he knows Tyler won’t leave without helping with the closing work the other servers have to do.

“Take one with us,” Tyler says. Asher can’t read what’s in his eyes, but he can read the awkwardness that springs up between everyone when he does.

“Yeah, take a load off,” Malik says. Asher glances back at Claudia, who is cleaning the bar rail. She catches his eye and nods, signaling that he should hang out there. He drags a couple of chairs from a nearby table and offers one to Tyler first. Tyler pulls it closer to Malik.

“Do you guys want another drink?” Asher asks before he sits.

“Tyler?”

“I’m on the clock, boss,” Tyler says. Asher smiles, then gestures Claudia over.

“I’ve officially clocked you out for a bit,” he says.

“Do I get to un-clock you so you can drink?” Tyler says, then makes a face. “That sounded dirtier than I meant it to.” Asher laughs but then straightens out to address the table so it doesn’t seem as if he and Tyler are in their own world.

“No, someone has to steer this ship,” he says.

“And of course it can only be you,” Tyler teases.

“You’re one to talk. Tyler has control issues.” Asher points out.

“Oh man, tell us about it,” Brandon says while Malik nudges Tyler playfully with his shoulder. Tyler makes an indignant huffy noise that’s downright adorable. Asher bites the inside of his cheek to keep his smile disguised.

When Claudia comes, they all order drinks—except Asher who won’t be swayed so long as the restaurant is open—and begin picking their way through awkward conversation. Asher worries that he knows too much: about Tyler, about Malik, about their relationship through guesswork and his tendency to observe Tyler and puzzle him out. He’s hyper-aware that Malik has been told more about him than Asher is comfortable with. Asher is intensely protective of his own life, of the precarious balancing act between knowing too much and trying not to be too familiar with Tyler, that he’s trying to execute. Malik and Brandon are into their third beers, and Tyler his second drink, before things thaw enough for smoother conversation. Brandon’s drawn Tyler into a side conversation and Malik has turned his full attention to Asher.

“I’ve been wondering, man,” Malik says. He runs one finger over the menu, tracing the scripted font at the top. “Why Idlewild?”

“Why… the bar?” Asher asks.

“Well, that too, but no, the name.”

“Nothing special, honestly,” Asher says. “Before we knew this was really going to happen, we used to sit around dreaming things up.”

“You and your husband?”

“John, yeah.” Asher drags his finger through the puddled condensation on the tabletop, feathers it out into little designs. “You know, pipe dream-type things. What it would look like, colors. A lot of times it was just goofing off, making up the ugliest color schemes and worst menu items we could. Idlewild was a name that came up one night. Later, when this actually happened,” he says as he gestures around them, “I remembered it.”

What Asher doesn’t tell him is the part that’s closer to his heart. They’d been in bed, late at night. The windows were open with a box fan propped in one of them, which couldn’t dispel the August humidity. Every time they stopped laughing, John would throw out something else, setting off another round of giggles. Asher’s not sure why, of all the names John had tossed out over the years, Idlewild had stayed with him. But he remembers laughing until he cried that night, and kissing John’s neck where it was damp with sweat, but refusing to cuddle because it was so damn hot.

“It’s a good name for a bar,” Malik says. Asher wants to thank him, only Malik’s voice isn’t quite genuine. Or maybe it is, but there’s also an edge. Still Asher errs on the side of manners.

“Thanks.”

“Did you always want to run a restaurant?” Malik’s gaze is unwavering.

Asher’s a little surprised by the question; he and Tyler have talked about this a lot.

“No, not at all. John kind of talked me into it. The idea of doing it one day. So when the opportunity arose, it was my dream, too, by then.”

“And you chose Detroit.” There’s definitely an edge to Malik’s tone now, even if his body language and words and face seem perfectly fine. It’s not aggression. Asher can’t put a finger on what it is. He wants to ask Malik what answers he’s really searching for.

“Feel free to ignore him,” Tyler butts in. Asher wasn’t aware that he’d been listening. “He’s fishing to find out if you think you’re singlehandedly going to save the city with one bar.” Tyler smiles, bright and wide, in Malik’s direction, though Asher can clearly see that he has a hand on Malik’s knee, probably trying to squeeze it so he’ll stop talking.

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it like that,” Malik says. Brandon chuckles and Tyler rolls his eyes.

How would you? Asher wants to ask; his hackles are up. He can’t tell if it’s because he wants to defend their choices or because there’s something about Malik that seems so at odds with the Tyler he knows. Putting them together creates an unsettling dissonance.

“No solo city-saving here,” Asher says, forcing himself to speak lightly.

“I’m sorry, man,” Malik says, and this time his smile is more sincere. “Tyler knows me. I can be an ass about some things. I have a hard time sometimes, with all these folks coming from all over the place, acting as if this here’s empty land waiting for someone to rescue. Like some of us haven’t been here all along doing our best.”

Asher remembers Tyler telling him about Malik growing up in Delray; that, like Tyler, he’s worked hard to get himself through school.

“We never thought we were saving anything,” Asher explains. He doesn’t want to admit it, but Malik’s words give him pause. He doesn’t think that’s what he and John intended or felt, but it’s hard to articulate the difference between intention and action. “A lot of people believe in this city. Have believed. I wanted to be a part of that. Maybe that sounds the same, but it’s not.” He wishes he could find the right words to explain; he never could lay them out plainly for John in a way that made sense. He’s not sure he can for a boy who sees Asher as an interloper.

~*~

Don’t want to miss the scatter of breadcrumbs? I’m doing my traditional #lineaday (One line from the book every day leading up to release) on twitter, and also character excerpts on my tumblr. If breadcrumbs can be counted as appatizers, prepare for a feast….

Or…more terrible puns.

Idlewild will be available for purchase December 1st, 2016. It is currently available for pre order: if you put both the print and ebook version in your cart and order before Dec. 1st, you’ll get the eBook free using discount code IDLEWILD.

Also, if you preorder and send me proof of purchase, you will receive a personalized postcard from me and be entered to win a signed copy of the book!

Tyler Heyward, beautiful boy

“Tyler was capable of a lot more than his family, or most people who knew him, thought. People took him at face value. He had soft features and a lithe, thin body that should have been a dancer’s, delicate hands and unusual eyes. It was easier to let them think what they would than to always fight it.

At home he was lighthearted and silly and lovable. He didn’t demand attention. With his friends at Affirmations, the LGBT community center, he was femme and funny, the laugh of the party and everyone’s pet. At school he was quiet: the achiever; tones spoken a little lower, clothes a little baggier and the line of his shoulders held differently.

Tyler was gifted. And it wasn’t just his intelligence, or his unusual prettiness or his sweet nature. Tyler was an actor at almost every moment, a patchwork of personas, a chameleon and a bone-deep people-pleaser.”

For those of you curious about the men of Idlewild, I’ve been posting little pictures over on my twitter and facebook accounts — I’ll be putting ones up every now and then as we run up to Idlewild’s release (12 days!!! Eeee).

Until then, I also wanted to share tiny snapshots of who these men are.

~*~

Idlewild will be available for purchase December 1st, 2016. It is currently available for pre order: if you put both the print and ebook version in your cart and order before Dec. 1st, you’ll get the eBook free using discount code IDLEWILD.

Also, if you preorder and send me proof of purchase, you will receive a personalized postcard from me and be entered to win a signed copy of the book!

Bang!

I’m gonna start July off with a bang! Or some other fireworks holiday kind of metaphor that’s terrible…

Rounding up some info: my books are 25% at Smashwords! So if you’ve been waiting for a great time to grab a copy of Hush or What it Takes, go for it!

If you want LOTS of great books, Interlude Press has some *amazing* books coming up that are on sale — all of their pre-order books — which includes Pene Henson’s upcoming novel, Into the Blue.

I have to write this book a proper review, but for now, just LOOK at the gorgeous cover.

This book is lush and beautiful and will just grab your heart. It got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and has gotten some great reviews ahead of it’s release — so I promise you, this book is really something very special.

You can preorder Into the Blue in print and e-book format, and I cannot recommend it more!

As for the rest, who knows? We are hard at work on Idlewild (yay!) and I am messing with an idea for a fourth book I am SO EXCITED FOR, which will be my Camp NaNo project. Wish me luck and motivation!

Finally, I am going to encourage everyone to get involved in the 1000 Book Challenge. Interlude Press and The Trevor Project have partnered to raise money for The Trevor Project and to get LGBT YA into libraries, head over here to find ways you can support this awesome project.

 

Series Recommendation: Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances

So, if y’all follow me on twitter (@judesierra), you know that I have a long standing love affair with Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series. I’ve read and re-read the first two books in the series (Breakaway and Save of the Game) at least five times — no exaggeration.

This series follows hockey players (OMG HOCKEY ROMANCE, YAS) who play in the ECHL. I’ve been lucky enough to get an advance copy of her newest addition to the series, Power Play.

Power Play_FINAL

 

I have so much love for this series, and this book was such a great addition. Gale has a gift with character voices: they are always clear and unique and each character is so well written. They’re flawed and funny and quirky and passionate and so deeply lovable.

Power Play is the story of Max Ashford and Misha Samarin, who are paired to coach the worst team in the ECHL, the Spartanburg Spitfires. They’re hired by a smarmy GM who is more interested in getting his team attention through sensational media, and Max and Misha’s past offers ample fodder. Years ago, Misha accidentally caused a freak accident in a Stanley Cup playoff game that ended Max’s career. Determined not to let their past — or their GM — affect their desire to help their team, Max and Misha slowly navigate their relationship, from being coworkers to friends to lovers, over the course of the novel.

Max is like sunshine in this book, and it doesn’t feel contrived. I love that he went through something heartbreaking but found a way to manage it, live his live, redirect with a positive attitude. I really loved that, because that’s a really realistic option for dealing with setbacks, but it can seem insurmountable. It’s not! Max makes that clear.

Misha is complicated and deep; he has a painful backstory he doesn’t know how to handle, and lingering guilt over the accident that ended Max’s career. The way he comes to trust Max and forgive himself is handled beautifully, as is his commitment to protecting and caring for his players (AKA Isaac Drake, who will be featured in her upcoming novel).

I have a weakness for hockey romance and this series hits every sweet spot. I cannot wait for book four, Empty Net, which will be available in the fall. I might cry in the interim months. I so highly recommend this series and this book!

Banner Time

Let’s talk visual inspiration for What it Takes; in pictures and an excerpt.

(Say it like you’d say Hammer Time and then sing that song to yourself for a moment. Go on, it’ll feel great!)

~*~

        “The wind is up, but the beach is deserted. This has always been a quieter one, thanks to a longer walk through the dunes. There are sandbars far into the water at high tide and the sand is mostly exposed at low tide. A line of pebbles sweeps in an arc above the waterline, and below it is a second arc of seaweed. The tide is mostly out. The dunes wear their usual blend of pretty purple and white flowers and sharp grasses. 

       Milo sits a few feet above the rock line and pulls on his sweater. The sun is blinding off the water, but he wants to be blinded, wants to be forced out of his headspace. It’s so quiet, save for the agitated water. 

       Legs crossed, Milo pulls himself up straight. He closes his eyes and ignores the swirling colors behind his eyelids. He counts a slow breath in, three beats, then exhales for three. Takes a three-beat pause before breathing in. He imagines his breath as a triangle and projects that shape from his body. He lets his senses take in the beach, the quiet, the water, the grit of the sand whipped up by the waves. Tension seeps out of him when he exhales. He lets it go. Nothing is taken from him, nothing is forced. He can count these breaths as he wants. He suspends himself in the pauses: pictures a white canvas, bleeding jumbled.images of worry and anxiety, reds and blacks and angry oranges slowly dripping off, as if washed away by rain. 

       When he opens his eyes again, he’s calmer. That buzzing, anxious feeling is gone. The seaweed has been swallowed by the sea. Tide’s coming in. Milo watches it. The water begins to run in a slow progressing rivulet in a channel between the rocks. As the water creeps ever closer, it rises over uneven sandbars until it meets in the middle of that small channel, eventually overflowing and overrunning the strip of sand in the middle. Before it’s gone, Milo walks into the cold water. The rocks are rough under the soles of his feet. They’re thin-skinned against the sand; when he was a kid they’d been callused and used to beach and forest.
        He searches out bigger, colorful rocks and tosses them up the beach. He finds a perfect half shell with pinks blending into white in the center. In the middle is a bright blue fleck of sand. He picks that up too.
        By the path into the dunes and back toward his car is a wrecked piece of driftwood, hollow and pale from sun-bleaching. He arranges the rocks on top, makes a pattern of colors with the
shell on the end, a frangible beautiful thing, and then takes a picture. His mom will like that. The memory of making art of beach flotsam with Andrew haunts him.” p 145, What it Takes

~*~

Last night I had awesome fun taking over the Interlude Press twitter and website, answering great questions about Hush, What it Takes and my secret third book.

I’ll be rounding some of that up for y’all later, but I wanted to share this banner I made for social media (other than this website, which was made by actual professionals, so it looks more professional).

An anonymous reader asked: I want to visit the setting of your book – it sounds so serene and beautiful. Is it a place you’ve always just imagined or is there an actual place that inspired it?

My quick twitter answer was that the scenery and natural settings were inspired my visit to Wellfleet for a poetry retreat a few years ago. I’ve wanted to use the inspiration I got from that visit for a while. Wellfleet didn’t work, logistically, for this novel, but I wanted to use what I saw and experienced — so I invented the town of Santuit.

While this is an invented town, the pictures in this banner are my own, taken from my trip. I have to admit that the log with stones was something I stumbled upon, I didn’t actually make that art the way that Milo did. That shell with the beautiful blue piece of sand is something I found as well. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the forest they play in, but I assure you I did treck in there and see a lovely isolated pond; I did get to feel the hush of the trees and birds and the stillness of places people weren’t in.

So for those of you who were curious about visuals, inspiration and place, here is some of the magic I experienced and built Milo’s healing around.

 

 

Reader Review

“How should one unpack blame? They both martyred themselves in youthful idiocy.  They both ruined something.  But when he thinks of the life Andrew shared with him – travel and jobs, and learning to connect with an audience through words – could he have achieved any of that? While holding Milo’s hand through anxiety and fear for years?  Each visit to a therapist, each time he talked himself through fear, learned to find that handle to hold onto inside himself, and the strength to be a better man: Milo knows he might never have done that with Andrew as his citadel of protection.” -What it Takes

I’d like to start by thanking Scout, who had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of What it Takes and who  said some absolutely lovely things about it. It is so nice to hear from readers and know that the things I worked so hard on were successful.

I loved that Scout pulled this quote from the book and also spoke to the fact that however painful Milo and Andrew’s separation was it was in no way an easy plot contrivance on my part: it was genuinely what these men needed in order to grow and become healthy.

I am so excited to hear from you guys — so excited to have this book in your hands. And above all, very thrilled that soon I’ll get to share this experience with you all. There are so many bits of myself — my experiences and heartbreaks and personal triumphs — in these men and their stories. It feels like an honor to get to share that with readers as well.

-J

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!

Secret Forts

As we near the release of What it Takes, I’ve been sharing tiny snippets on Twitter — I’m tagging #WhatitTakes, and posting one a day. Head on over, I’m @judesierra.

As well, I’ve been sharing some excerpts here! I wanted to share a pivotal moment in Milo and Andrew’s childhood: when they build their fort in the woods. This is a spot that becomes very important to them as they grow up. So much happens there; I always like to imagine that the walls of this tiny haven they build for themselves hold secrets even I’m not privy to.

~*~

They’re in the woods one day in July when they come into a small clearing. Milo has been keeping complaints about the humidity and bugs to himself. He wants to hang out with Andrew and if this is the best he can get, he’ll take it. Andrew comes alive when they’re out here, which is awesome. God knows Milo could use some happiness too.

“You good?” Andrew asks. He looks around the clearing, then sits carefully on what’s left of a fallen tree. Milo kicks at a tuft of grass.

“I’m fine.”

“Milo,” Andrew says in that voice he gets, the one that’s knowing and superior.

“I’m fine. Looking forward to school. Less time at home, you know? It’s close but not close enough, and it’s making me crazy.”

Andrew looks at him for a long moment, then away. His eyes explore the fringe of woods, and the scraggly wildflowers in the sunlight. “We should build something out here.”

“Huh?” Milo gives up and stands next to him. A line of sweat slides down his temple, and he wipes it away.

“Like a fort?” Andrew shoots him a shy and hopeful look. Milo resists the urge to point out that they aren’t kids anymore and that they’re too old for that kind of play, because he doesn’t want to hurt Andrew’s feelings. “I know it’s lame. But come on, it’ll be fun!”

“How will we do that? We need wood and supplies and, like, to know how to build stuff.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Andrew’s face brightens; Milo is terrible at resisting this sort of persuasion. “And then we’ll have a place no one knows about. It’ll be our thing.” Andrew looks away then and shrugs. “That sounded wrong. I didn’t mean—”

“No! No, that’s cool.” The thought of a secret place is appealing. If they do this, it’ll be somewhere Milo can go when everyone is busy and he can’t go to their houses. Plus, the thought of planning something to build is exciting. “So we’ll need a plan.”

“Blah,” Andrew complains. He starts circling the clearing.

“How do you plan to accomplish this without— ”

“A plan? I’m kidding. Come on, let’s find a spot. We can go home and make the best plan and it’ll be like a little wet dream for you.”

Milo blushes and laughs and only looks away for a second before looking for an ideal spot.

#

The fort takes longer to build than Andrew anticipated. The wood was expensive, and they had to figure out how to pay for it, and also, come on, they aren’t master builders yet. Despite all of Milo’s drawn plans—the first drafts roughly scratched into dirt, then, as they sat on the beach, into shifting sands that proved to be a terrible sketch pad, and finally on paper—the process was a whole lot of trial and error.

“It’s not all that big,” Milo says when they’re finally, for the first time, seated inside their little creation.

“It’s fine.” Andrew is unpacking a cooler of snacks and pop he brought for the occasion.

Milo inspect their handiwork. “There’s a huge gap over here.”

“Oh my god, Mr. Perfection, enjoy the moment.” Andrew kicks him in the ankle.

“No wait, there’s an exposed nail; let me find the hammer—”

“Milo,” Andrew says in his most stern voice, which isn’t that stern at all when it cracks. He clears his throat. “Shut up, sit down and drink your Coke. We can fix that later.”

Milo sighs and sits down. Andrew can tell he’s working very hard not to examine the fort for more flaws.

“We’ll be here again, you know,” Andrew says.  “We have time to fix things up if we want. For now, it’s mostly done; it’s awesome. We’re awesome.”

“Yeah. True.” Milo smiles; his hair is a shaggy mess and his face is spotted with pimples that have come and gone as they’ve started to hit puberty. His shirt is dirty, they’re both sweating and it’s sweltering in the fort—even though it’s in the shade, the heat of their bodies in the confined space is driving the temperature up to uncomfortable. Milo is right—it is small, and being so close to Milo makes a completely different heat suffuse his body. It’s confusing and new and unwelcome, and, if he doesn’t distract himself immediately, will be very obvious.

Andrew distracts himself by looking over their creation. The wooden floor is rough enough to need more sanding. The walls are made of mismatched wooden boards—some bought and some scavenged—that don’t fit together perfectly, especially around the small window and door. One day, when it’s not about a billion degrees, Andrew wants to paint the walls inside. Milo looks up to examine the roof while they finish lunch, and Andrew contemplates whether making some sort of sign outside the fort would be too childish.

It’s far from perfect, but still, for that moment, Andrew can’t imagine that he’s ever been happier.

~*~

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!