In which we have guests, part 20

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Roshni Radia.

Ron and Hermione Sitting in a Tree…

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:29

Babe, do you think wizarding kids want to know

why the chicken crossed the road?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:29

I’m pretty sure no one wants to know why the

chicken crossed the road. I’m more interested in

 how it knew it was crossing a road.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

Riiiight. I don’t think many people besides you

want to know that.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

Their loss. Why do you ask?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

You know how George is. It’s all about new

ideas.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

So you want to pitch the chicken crossed

 the road joke with him?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

Yeah….crap idea right?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:30

Yes, honey.

Sorry.

Did you by any chance read up that article I

sent you about learning to say no?

Thu 18 Nov 10:31

It’s because I said yes to that thing one time isn’t

it? I said I was sorry. It was an honest mistake. How

was I supposed to know he wasn’t a real doctor?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:31

You weren’t supposed to know honey

and you know I don’t blame you.

It’s just important that you can tell when

it’s a scam or not.

Thu 18 Nov 10:31

He assured me that the woman in my life would

love a bigger penis.

You are the woman in my life.

And you like science. This is science.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:31

Read the article honey, this isn’t science.

It’s a con.

Thu 18 Nov 10:36

Honey? I’m not mad at you. I’m really not.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:36

I know. I read it. It made me angry. What if I didn’t

have you? What if the po-po hadn’t stepped in?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

I wish you would stop calling them that.

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

What? Po-po? Dude you is totes old.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

I am not. I just like calling things by their

proper name.

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

And that’s why I totes love you.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

Please stop saying ‘totes’.

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

Whatevs.

Babe, why did the chicken cross the road?

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

To get to the other side?

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

It wanted to understand the nature of the road,

how it ended up on the road, and why there was

a road in its existence at all.

 

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

Ron, sometimes I love you more than

I know how to express.

Thu 18 Nov 10:37

I know J

 

My name is Roshni and I run The Gymkhana Club. There only a few  things you need to know about me at this very moment in time:

 

  1. I love Deanna Raybourn’s books and writing a guest blog post has made my month;
  2. I love Harry Potter;
  3. Tomorrow is my last day in a job I have grown to hate and from Monday I am starting something new. I am very, very excited about this.
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In which we have guests, part 19

A few of our scheduled guest bloggers were unable to come and play with us, so if you see this notice, it means our guest poster is probably smothered in tinsel somewhere. We offer them season’s greetings and look forward to our next guest post coming soon!

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In which we have guests, part 18

A few of our scheduled guest bloggers were unable to come and play with us, so if you see this notice, it means our guest poster is probably smothered in tinsel somewhere. We offer them season’s greetings and look forward to our next guest post coming soon!

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In which we have guests, part 17

A few of our scheduled guest bloggers were unable to come and play with us, so if you see this notice, it means our guest poster is probably smothered in tinsel somewhere. We offer them season’s greetings and look forward to our next guest post coming soon!

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In which we have guests, part 16

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Karina Cooper.

transmuted

So Long! Farewell! Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!

The year was 2011. High on the success of landing my first book contract ever, I wrote my agent a breathless email wherein I outlined the ideas for an opium-addicted London Society miss and the misadventure of a lifetime, and hit send.

 

So began the many tales of Cherry St. Croix, Society miss by day and collector of bounties by night—a string of adventures, mysteries, heartache and victories that would carry through to January of 2015. Four years strong.

 

When the deliciously delightful Deanna (alliteratively awesome!) put out an all-hands call for guest posts on her blog, I thought, “What should I write about?” And then, as I studied my calendar for the next year, I realized that this was it. January marked the seventh and final publication in my award-winning St. Croix Chronicles. The end of an era. Well, almost literally, as the series opens in 1888. Queen Victoria chugs on for another decade or so, but for Cherry St. Croix, her London adventures end on a spring day in 1889.

 

Transmuted was, for the most part, just like any other book. I pulled some threads out of previous books, figured out which ones I had to close and which would stay un-mended, who would live through the night and who would meet a bitter end, and how it would all tie up by the final pages. The difference here was that there would be no to be continued.

 

On January 26th, 2015, we reach the end of the line for Cherry and her ragtag band of companions.

 

The feels are, to say the least, bittersweet.

Old Friends in Literary Form

If you’re at all like me—primarily an introvert—you prefer the company of the familiar over that of the unsafe and unexpected. The road less traveled is all well and good, but you know what waits on the road you always take–the warm cup of coffee at the end of it, the comfortable bed, the companionship of old friends.

 

In a lot of way, the St. Croix Chronicles was and remains the road always traveled. It’s familiar. The burning excitement for new and adventurous turned into the warm, comforting embers of home. Cherry is as familiar and dear to me as my own best friend, and her associates are all my crowd. Hawke with his implacable regard and unyielding need to protect, Ashmore and his long-suffering patience. Zylphia’s ferocity, Ishmael’s unswerving loyalty, Maddie Ruth’s chipper drive, and the family that Cherry has allowed herself to love, regardless of blood or circumstance. Each is as beloved to me as the flesh and blood of my own inner circle.

 

But I am, in the end, a writer—and like all writers, I am often possessed of a vicious need to create. There is no cure.

All Things Must End

Even the staunchest introvert—if a writer—can’t resist the lure of new adventures. For all the comforts of home, as Bilbo Baggins learned, there is something to be said about leaving the Shire. Things, people—you—change, and change is what this world is all about. I am not the same person I was when I started this post, and I will be different when I end it.

 

Just as I was when I began the St. Croix Chronicles. And when I ended it.

 

I am sad. With the final The End, Transmuted doesn’t just close a chapter of Cherry’s complicated life. It closes the book. There will be no more adventures on the page—no more explanations for the often crazy events that afflicted the reluctant Society miss and her band of conspirators. Wrapping up the threads I did brought a bittersweet satisfaction, and a thorough understanding that I will be hounded for the threads I left alone.

 

Like life, not everything is neatly tied away.

 

But no matter how tempting it is to continue writing in a series, to stay in familiar ground, to tell stories there over and over, I am of the belief that all stories must end. To do otherwise, to stay with Cherry through the next year, two years, ten, wouldn’t be hard. There’s no end to the historical tidbits I could weave into her life. No end to the terrible and magical and wonderful things I could lay at her feet.

 

But if I did that, if I continued into the next arc, I am left feeling that I would do this arc—this particular journey from opium-addicted Society miss to (barely) sober independent woman—a terrible disservice.

 

All things must end. No matter how much I love the world I’ve created for Cherry, no matter how much I adore the cast of disparate characters, I look at what I’ve accomplished with the series and think, “That’s enough.” They say an artist always knows when to stop. For me, for Cherry, this is now.

 

Cherry St. Croix deserves the time to live on in everyone’s imagination. And I hope the stories you create for her are many and last forever.

The Road Less Traveled

On a less philosophical, slightly navel-gazing track, this does clear up my schedule to work on new adventures—to take that road less traveled. And boy, have I launched that one. Despite having my roots firmly in the paranormal, I did begin a new series that is solidly, delightedly different.

 

Although I’m using a different name for them—just to make sure I don’t confuse anyone—and although they are a totally different genre, I’ve been having a lot of fun with my contemporary and New Adult romances. (Seriously, so much fun. Even Victoria Dahl called them sizzling!)

 

I’ve got essays to write—yes, essays, what—and new projects that wander into science fiction, into fantasy, into brain candy, and more. I may have a slow release year, but it’s not for lack of work. The fact that the St. Croix Chronicles ended is a little scary—because contracts, because job security—but it’s not the end of the road for me.

 

The feels are complicated. The nostalgia will probably last forever. I’ll wake up at three in the morning thinking, “I could write a short story to explain that!” Or I’ll forever wish I’d done something else, something different, something to close that thread after all.

 

But such is the life of a writer. We’re forever walking parallel roads, doing one thing while dreaming of another. Showing up in different worlds. Making our mark before gallivanting off to another dreamland adventure.

 

We stay for a while because it’s comfortable, and when we get hungry again, we move to the next.

 

I hope, delicious friends, that you’ll come along. And don’t be too sad.

 

Like Cherry, our adventures are really only just beginning.

 

Stay for a While

Karina Cooper is an unabashed, manic, prolifically nerd-tastic writer. She tweets a lot. You can see how much at @karinacooper. She likes Star Wars. Yes, still. Don’t judge her. She consumes souls between cups of coffee.

 

Also? She wants you to know that you’re awesome.

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In which we have guests, part 15

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Sally Kilpatrick.

In Which I Get to Touch the Hem of Deanna Raybourn’s Blog

 

First of all, thanks to Deanna for allowing me to besmirch her gorgeous blog. When she extended the invitation last year, I sat before the Twitter most paralyzed. This year, I made myself volunteer. Maybe I was emboldened by my accidental taxi ride with Catherine Coulter. After all, there’s nothing like introducing yourself confidently and extending a hand to someone only to realize you should totally know her. In my defense, it was dark. We had been to the Harlequin party. (Thanks again, Tanya Michaels!) Wine may or may not have been involved…

 

Ahem. Anyhoo, writers are my rock stars.

 

Often I forget that I’m a writer myself. In my mind, I’m still reading ALL THE THINGS in a dual quest to entertain myself and learn how to be an actual bona fide writer. In my mind, I’m still that twenty-year-old in an undergraduate fiction class with my professor asking, “Is this supposed to be satire?” (It wasn’t.) “Because your short story is, uh, cliché.” (Ouch.)

 

And all that kinda brings me around to how I discovered the works of Deanna Raybourn. When I was twenty-two and fresh out of college, I had this crazy notion: I’ll write a romance novel. How hard can it be? I’ve already been forced to read Heart of Darkness at least three times. Surely, genre is easier than literature.

 

Yeah. About that.

 

A good romance novel is like a Shakespearean sonnet: the limitations of the form/genre actually make it more difficult to write. I’ll stretch this metaphor a little farther and say that, as in all poetry, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. After (mumble mumble) years of writing many romance novels in many genres, I had my Eff It! Moment. The Eff It Moment would be the one in which you tell THE RULES to take a long walk off a short pier and write the story you want to write and then worry about how to sell it. I wrote The Happy Hour Choir, realized it fell under RWA’s Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category, and then started looking at every book that won that category and several of the nominees. The book that really jumped out at me? Silent in the Grave.

 

Y’all. I was hooked from the first line, and I haven’t looked back. There aren’t many authors who’ve inspired me to buy ALL of their works, but Deanna is one of them. Mind you, I haven’t read them all yet because I get very “Squirrel!” as I work through my TBR pile, but I have them and parcel them out as treats when I’m a good girl and meet my deadlines. Suffice to say, it’s an honor to be on the blog of an author I respect so much.

 

Now, some of you have actually read part or all of The Happy Hour Choir and are saying to yourselves, “Sally, your book has NOTHING to do with Victorian mysteries. You’ve written a contemporary Southern story about a honky-tonk piano player and a minister.” This is true. I love to read historical novels, but I was not born with the gift of writing them. I tell you all of this to say. . . . read widely, my friends. The number one thing that will make you a better writer is to read voraciously. Step out of your comfort zone and read books you wouldn’t normally read by authors who don’t see the world exactly as you do. Read to learn things; read to entertain yourself. Just whatever you do, please read.

 

On this, the birthday of Taylor Swift*, I commission you to give yourself a new Christmas present: go forth and find a new book by a new author. Looking for a suggestion? You can find me on Twitter at @SuperWriterMom or on my Facebook author page (also SuperWriterMom/Sally Kilpatrick). I’ll throw suggestions at you like they throw rolls at Lambert’s Cafe. You can also stop by my blog (www.sallykilpatrick.com) on December 15th. I’ll have a list of some of my favorites, and I’d love to hear your suggestions, too, even if my TBR pile is beginning to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

 

Come on, you owe it to yourself to rededicate yourself to wider reading on this day that Saint Celestine V resigned the papacy back in 1294.**

 

*I also commission you to shake it off.

 

**I felt the need to add a little something factual to the post. December 13th really is Taylor Swift’s birthday as well as that of Tamora Pierce, Ted Nugent, and Dick Van Dyke. Malta became a republic on this day. Donatello, Samuel Johnson, Henry James, and Grandma Moses are among those who gave up the ghost on December 13—different years, of course. Now I’ve done my duty, and you are ready for those holiday bouts of Trivial Pursuit.

 

 

Sally Kilpatrick lives in Marietta, GA with husband, kids, and cats—they are all practically perfect in every way, of course. Her debut novel, The Happy Hour Choir, will be available from Kensington on April 28, 2015. You can find her on Twitter (@SuperWriterMom) or at www.sallykilpatrick.com.

 

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In which we have guests, part 14

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Nicky Penttila.

Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815

Image: painting by John James Chalong, Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815, from the National Maritime Museum

Napoleon in England?

I love to include real events in my stories, and I needed front-page-worthy stories for my novel A NOTE OF SCANDAL A Note of Scandal because it revolves around a newspaper publisher and his reporters. So imagine my delight, when researching ships-of-the-line and other things nautical, when I came across the story of Napoleon’s sailing to England after Waterloo.

What? Napoleon in England? Well, English waters, at least. After the French defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was feeling the pressure to leave French soil or risk becoming a prisoner of the Bourbons, or the Prussians, or the Austrians. After the British government turned down a French request for a passport for Bonaparte to travel to the United States, he and his followers debated whether to press his claim for the passport or to make a run for it, challenging the British blockade near Rochefort, France — or to request political asylum. Knowing that the British had a tradition of harboring political refugees, he chose the latter. He dictated a letter to the Regent:

“A victim to the factions which distract my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality of the British people. I put myself under the protection of their laws; which I claim from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.
Rochefort 13 July 1815”

His negotiators, though, treated with Captain Maitland, who while he agreed that Bonaparte and his motley crew could come aboard under a flag of truce made no promise of asylum, and even hinted that his government might not agree that Maitland had any authority in the matter at all. The French envoys saw his declarations as overly careful and were very encouraged; and after all, Napoleon’s younger brother, Lucien, had been captured by the British in 1810 and was now settled in a cozy country house near Worcester. It didn’t seem to occur to them that the British might not see the would-be conqueror of Europe in the same light.

On the morning of July 15, Napoleon and some 33 retainers, including women and children, boarded the Bellerophon. “I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and your laws,” he said to the captain. After a day of settling in, including stringing nets along the sides so the children wouldn’t tumble off, they set off for England.

They anchored off Brixham early on July 24, and immediately were an object of interest for the locals. Maitland had received orders not to let “anyone” off the ship, so the ship remained deep in the bay, chasing off the usual bread and goods merchants who’d come out in their shore boats. They couldn’t hide the news, though: Soon every inn was full and people in boats and yachts came from up and down the coast to see if they could catch sight of the most famous man in the world. Two days later, the Bellerophon sailed for Plymouth, where it met with an even bigger reception. A lieutenant estimated the crowd on July 27 at 10,000 people, seeing roughly a thousand vessels, each with more than 8 people aboard.

After a week of pacing the deck, Napoleon had his answer:

“It would be inconsistent with our duty to this country, and to His Majesty’s Allies, if we were to leave to General Bonaparte the means or opportunity of again disturbing the peace of Europe, and renewing the calamities of war: it is therefore unavoidable that he should be restrained in his personal liberty… The island of St Helena has been selected for his future residence…”

On August 4, the Bellerophon and its attendant ships departed Plymouth to rendezvous with the Northumberland, which would take the former emperor and a smaller number of retainers to St Helena.

As I edited my story, above my desk I pinned a copy of this painting by John James Chalong, Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815, from the National Maritime Museum. I love the idea of thousands of people in little boats riding up and down on the waves to see a famous (or infamous) man.

A classic Zebra Regency romance that also makes use of the events in Plymouth is The Perfect Bride (aka The Perfect Match), by Jo Ann Ferguson. I’d love to find other stories that treat on it. Know of any?

Find out more:

Wikipedia entry on the Bellerophon and Napoleon’s surrender

“A Sympathetic Ear: Napoleon, Elba and the British,” Katharine MacDonogh, from History Today (1994), vol. 44, via Napoleon.org

The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon . David Cordingly, 2003, Bloomsbury

Nicky Penttila writes science fact and adventurous fiction, including A Note of Scandal and An Untitled Lady. She’s chattiest on Twitter, @nickypenttila.

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In which we have guests, part 13

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Susanna Kearsley.

THE HERO IN THE BLACK HAT

One of the first things I learned as a child watching Saturday matinee movies was that, in a western, the guys in the black hats were usually up to no good. There were few shades of grey in those films: If a man wore a black hat and rode a black horse, he was bad to the core. (Well, or Zorro, but Zorro was Spanish and from California so he had more fashion sense than other heroes…)

The point is, if somebody looked like a villain, he was. This holds true for most bad guys in fiction as well, so I secretly love it when skilled writers put a black hat on a hero and send him out into the plot to confound us.

One of the best of these, in my opinion, is Severus Snape, who in head-to-toe black with his devious ways fits the matinee mould of a villain so well that the great revelation and shift of perception that comes near the end of the last Harry Potter book hits with the force of a punch in the heart.

It’s that moment I love—when we’re forced to look back through the story and see the events from a different perspective; to see, for the first time, beyond that black hat to the hero beneath.

It’s what happens in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk?, when the heroine, Charity, says to the man who’s spent half the book stalking her, scaring her, cursing her, that his own son is afraid of him. (Spoilers ahead, if you’ve not read the book…)
He said, in a curiously flat voice:
“Of me? Are you sure it’s of me? Did he say so?”
Then suddenly, I knew. I felt my own eyes widening as his had done, and I sat staring at him like an owl.
“Why” I whispered, “why, I don’t believe you killed your friend. I don’t believe you ever hurt David in your life. I believe you love him. Don’t you? Don’t you?”
Richard Byron gave me a queer little twisted smile that hurt. Then he picked up his cigarette again and spoke lightly.
“I love him more than anything else in the world,” he said, quite as if it didn’t matter.

And just like that, we realize that the way that we’ve been seeing Richard Byron is all wrong. We have to stop, as does the heroine, and look back at the book’s events and try to understand what really happened.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (a favourite novel of mine, and one that contains another brilliant black-hatted hero in Arthur “Boo” Radley), Atticus says: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Like Harry encountering Snape’s cloud of memories, or Scout standing out on the Radley’s front porch, we as readers are given a new view of everything, and I admire the talented writers who pull this off well. It’s a level of skill I aspire to, one day when I find a hero who doesn’t mind wearing the wrong-coloured hat.

 

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In which we welcome guests, part 12

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Shae Connor.

Romancing in the Holidays

By Shae Connor

Thanks to Deanna for having me ’round today to talk about my mushy and sentimental love for a good holiday-themed romance. I enjoy reading about Christmas in particular, but any story that revolves around a holiday celebration works for me. I’ve written a handful of stories myself, including two Christmas short stories, “Sharing Christmas” and “Of Holiday Spirits, Wake-Up Calls, and Happily Ever Afters” (the latter has a title almost longer than the story).

This year, I’m involved with a holiday anthology that’s part of a fun and funny series we affectionately refer to as the Butts Anthologies. The first two titles were Butt Pirates in Space and Butt Ninjas from Hell, and last week we debuted the third installment, Butt Babes in Boyland. My contribution, “The Half-Life of Pumpkin Pie,” is a Thanksgiving-Christmas crossover story centered around a bakery customer and owner and a date to a toy-themed party that turns out to be more adult oriented than expected.

(Next up in the series? Butt Riders on the Range, coming in the spring. Yes, we have a lot of fun coming up with the titles!)

I spend a lot of my December reading time on holiday stories, both new releases and old favorites. I read mainly gay romance, although a few others do make it into the mix from time to time, but I thought I’d share a few favorites from my files.

Heidi Cullinan, one of my favorite authors, has two stories out in her Minnesota Christmas series. The first, Let It Snow, introduced the three “bears,” cabin-mates Marcus, Arthur, and Paul, and told of Marcus’s romance with hairstylist Frankie. The second title, Sleigh Ride, is about Arthur’s romance with the town’s librarian, Gabriel. (Paul will get his own HEA for Christmas 2015!) Eli Easton is another favorite author who has a couple of adorable holiday stories: Blame It on the Mistletoe and Unwrapping Hank.

The annual Advent Calendar set from Dreamspinner Press is always a great source of holiday shorts, and this year’s stories are now available. I haven’t read the new ones yet, but one of the first I glommed onto was Christmas with Danny Fit by Amy Lane, which cracks me up every time I re-read. Another favorite is Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf by B.G. Thomas, which is not only a great story but has an amazing cover, featuring characters that look a whole lot like the cover artist and his husband! Feathers from the Sky by Posy Roberts gives a different take on dealing with all of the usual craziness of the holidays with a big family and an added dose of navigating how to come out to your family about your same-sex relationship.

Plenty of other books have memorable holiday moments, even if the stories aren’t centered around the holidays. I particularly enjoy the Christmases in Ariel Tachna’s Lang Downs series, since the Australian setting means lots of sun for the holidays instead of piles of snow. In Dex in Blue, the second book in Amy Lane’s Johnnies series, a trip home for the holidays for a porn star and his secret boyfriend doesn’t turn out all that well. Things go much better over Christmas for Tom and Reese in Amy Jo Cousins’ Off Campus, the first in her new Bend or Break series, though that’s not enough to fix their relationship.

So hit me up: what are YOUR favorite holiday stories, or stories with strong holiday-themed sections? I’m always looking for more to add to my collection—and not just on the gay romance end of things, either!

Shae Connor lives in Atlanta, where she’s a lackadaisical government worker for a living and writes sweet-hot romance under the cover of night. She’s been making things up for as long as she can remember, but it took her a long time to figure out that maybe she should try writing them down. She’s conned several companies into publishing her work and adds a new notch on her bedpost each time another story is unleashed onto an unsuspecting universe.

Shae is part Jersey, part Irish, and all Southern, which explains why she never shuts up. You can find her hanging out on Twitter most any time @shaeconnor, but for the more direct route, you can email her at shaeconnorwrites@gmail.com or visit her website at shaeconnorwrites.com.

 

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In which we have guests, part 11

For the second year in a row, I am turning over the blog to guest posters for the month of December. And for the second year in a row, we’ve had a great response–thirty-three requests for spots! For the next month you’ll be hearing from writers, editors, and other pros on a variety of topics. I always let the guest writers choose their own subject and give them carte blanche while they’re here. There are no limitations on topic or language, and this time we’ve got everything from favorite words to sexsomnia! Since I will be hunkered down doing revisions on the first of my new books for NAL/Penguin, I am turning comments off for the month. Most posters will include links to their own sites if you want to follow up with them. So, I wish you all the best of holiday seasons–peace, prosperity, good health, and a fabulous start to 2015. See you in the new year!

Today we welcome Emma Alvarez Gibson–who came bearing an excerpt!

THIS MAKESHIFT WORLD
(Excerpt from Pandora’s Cigarette)

by Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

Not long into her marriage, Chloe realized that what had seemed like quiet, down-to-earth wisdom in Martin was actually a quiet, unconscionable ignorance about life in general. And that maybe she’d seen the signs from the beginning. That she had numbed herself until she no longer trusted her instincts. After the miscarriage, she and Martin had clung to one another for a few nights, but the warmth derived there failed to unfreeze anything in her. Still, it had been another four or five months before she called it. She spent those months in a sort of fever dream, comparing the catacombs of her life with the roofs of others; imagining what her mother would say; picturing all the gifts she would have to get rid of. She didn’t, of course, have to get rid of anything; she just always pictured that part, very vividly. The dishes, the decorative pillows. The salt cellar, in the shape of an anemone, with its gorgeous silver spoon.

But she did finally end it one day in Santa Monica, at the Farmers Market, when Martin had laughed at a sign advertising chayotes. “That sounds made up,” he’d said, and her ensuing facial tic told her the time was right. Martin had been displeased; for a moment he’d looked as though he were going to cry, and then he’d shrugged and said, “Well. If that’s what you want.”

Her mother had been just this side of bereft, hinting that Chloe’s standards were too high, encouraging her to think it over, talking endlessly about the terrible men her friends’ daughters had married and how miserable they were, how they would love a solid, dependable man like Martin. Much to Chloe’s disbelief, her mother had encouraged Martin to call and ask Chloe to lunch, once he’d moved out of the apartment; the fact that he had instead called and complained that her mother was being creepy had been further proof of a sound decision. And it had made her laugh, a little.

Her stepfather’s one addition to her mother’s ongoing monologue had been, “But it’s so soon. Are you sure?” She was sure. Because she did everything in this weird, murky way. Backwards, sideways. By following hunches and inexplicable threads of ideas. So why not this, too? Why not?

Those first months she had stumbled through a freedom made up of different washes of pale grey. Friends sent Congratulations on dumping that SOB cards, and came over with dinner and attempts to get her to a karaoke bar. And yes, it was better without Martin. But it wasn’t anything like the life she’d imagined. Six months on, she broke down and allowed herself to Google “Ian Mitchell.” Who was now, as it turned out, married. To someone named Deb, whose photo Chloe could not bring herself to look for, no matter how much she believed the punch to the gut would snap her out of it. The next day, she applied for a job at a huge corporation. The next week, she began life as a drone. And was very, very good at it. It was like college theater, she told her friends. “I go in, I’m chirpy and helpful, I’m busy all day long, and then it’s time to go. Nothing’s real, nothing really matters. It’s fantastic.”

 

Then Colin had happened. Or: she had happened to Colin.

“So what was that guy’s deal?” Ian is stuffing cheese and apples into his mouth. He’s sitting next to Chloe, on a rock, both of them facing the Pacific.

“Who?”

“The big fat fuckin’ baby at your office job.” He swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand and reaches into his backpack for another beer.

Chloe sighs.

“Oh, God.” He’s all raised eyebrows and gleeful disgust.

“What?”

“You loved him.”

“Ian–”

“Oh! Yes, you did! Oh, Jesus, you did!” And he laughs in a way that always made her want to shove him.

“I did love him.”

Ian snorts, has another swig of beer.

“I did! He was a good man. Is a good man, still. Probably.”

“Yeah. Whatever’s left of him, after you snapped him in half over your tiny little knee.”

“Did you want to know anything else? Or is the Inquisition part of this trip over?”

“I’ll find out everything, don’t you worry. I notice you’re not in any hurry to ask me any big questions, though.”

“It feels like it’s not my place to ask.”

“Bullshit.”

Ian did this sometimes.

“I hate the thought of you with someone else for ten years.”

“I hate the thought of you with someone else—however many someones there were—for ten years,” he says, and shrugs, looking out at the ocean.

“Well, there it is.”

“There it is.”

“Were you happy?”

“That’s a loaded question.”

“I know. I can tell you that there were moments, here and there, when I was happy. But not like this. And not like in Brooklyn. And not like when we first moved out here. So, now you; were you happy?”

“Was I happy.”

Silence.

“I guess I was, yeah. There were times when I was happy. There were long stretches of time when there really wasn’t much I could complain about. You weren’t with me, but that was…it was something I had to learn to live with.” His face was calm, but a muscle in his jaw jumped. “I was as happy as could have been expected. Happier than I thought I would be, in this makeshift world.”

“Yeah. I’m…I’m glad.”

He laughs. “Oh yeah, I can tell!”

“I am. Truly.”

“All right. But you didn’t finish telling me about…what was his name?”

“Colin.”

“Colon?”

She sighs again.

“Sorry. Colin. Please. Go on.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

“You want to know did I sleep with him.”

“Oh, you and your adorable euphemisms! I don’t want to know if you slept with him, honey.”

“You want to know if I fucked him.”

“Not particularly.”

“Liar.”

“I’m assuming you did that. Mainly I want to know what happened. How he…courted? Did he court you? How he courted you. What he said. What he did.”

“He was lonely. And I was lonely. No Eleanor Rigby, okay? I’ll throw your backpack into the ocean.”

“I didn’t say a word!”

“Right. So, yeah. I went in and performed what amounted to menial labor for the brain, cheery as could be, and it was nice to have something to do where I didn’t’ have to think. But it was fairly detailed and kind of draining, by the time the day was over. Anyway, here comes Colin, sad in his mockery of a marriage, and there I am, sad in my mockery of a life, but acting like the life of the corporate party. And you know how, uh, exuberant I can be.”

“Ooh.”

“Yeah.”

“So you really did a number on him.”

“Did you want to tell the story?”

He shakes his head, makes like he’s locking up his mouth and throwing away the key.

“You know what, forget it.” She takes a slice of apple out of his hand and puts the whole thing in her mouth.

“Oh, no you don’t!”

“But I do,” she laughs, talking around the apple and trying not to choke. “This is not the least bit interesting.”

“It’s fascinating! This is fascinating shit!”

“Oh, it’s shit? Why am I even talking about it?”

“I can make you talk about it.”

“No, you can’t!”

“Oh, listen to you!”

She flexes her bicep. He reaches out for a feel, and pretends to hurt his fingers.

“You dork.”

“For you? Yes.”

“For anyone else?”

“No way.”

It seems entirely possible that maybe things could be nice for awhile.

 

The words are cold, damp, sharp. Serrated, or something like it. You are nothing. You have always been nothing, and when you die it will simply be a relief, a bit of lint reabsorbed into the earth. Saying anything at all is useless—worse than useless; it will be met with howling derision and then her words will be used against her. One cold—finger? tentacle?—slides down the side of her face. Fuck you! she shouts, and wakes up then, sobbing. Ian reacts instantly, though he’s only somewhat awake.

“What’s wrong? Deb? Do you need…”

They look at one another silently, each one coming to in a different way.

“Fuck.” Ian closes his eyes, rubs a hand across his face.

“It’s fine, Ian. Really.”

He opens his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Nightmare.” Her heart rate is beginning to slow down.

“What about?”

“Too awful to discuss. I feel like vomiting.”

“Do you really?”

“I could be talked into it.”

“Like some kind of twisted Tom Sawyer thing.”

She laughs, and then he laughs. And then he reaches for her.

 

Later, exhausted, sweaty, and a little stoned, they take turns drinking from a gallon-bottle of water.

“God, I missed you,” Ian says. “I missed you so much. Can you. I mean, do you have any idea? You can’t possibly.”

“I can. I do.” She is perfectly still. He stares at her for a long moment, then closes his eyes again, shakes his head. She rises to her knees and kisses him: on the mouth, on each cheekbone, on each eyelid.

“Mmm. That’s nice.”

She sits back down and leans against him. He reaches over to pick up his wallet and hands it to her.

“Hey. Open this up.”

“You don’t have to pay me. I enjoyed it, too.”

“Funny girl. Check behind my driver’s license.”

She pulls out a ragged piece of paper. Unfolding it, she sees her own handwriting.

I am the place where you can stop and catch your breath and drink. You talk and talk, your brain tumbling out first, then your soul. You settle in and see how the words taste, see how they feel, against the backdrop, the mirror, the girl you know so well. There are fences all around you save here, and I expect only the best from you. Only the best; I don’t ask for much time and I don’t require much space. What I get, I realize now after many months, many fits and starts, is your condensed and sublimated

essence. We sit and rip open the bag, letting things fly where they may, leaving some things out by accident and others because they are unnecessary. You come to see me and you are shy, now that the ground is different. I have lost some of my shyness, since now you come to see me.

“You kept it.”

“Yeah.”

“Deb never…?”

“Nobody goes in my wallet but me. You know that.”

She does know, but she doubts, somehow, that Deb wouldn’t have seen it. She refolds the slip of paper, tucks it behind the license, and hands the wallet back.

“Are you still shy?” As though he’s asking whether she needs a blanket.

“A little. But not for the same reasons.”

“Chloe. Chloe Rausch. Here you are. Here you are with me.”

“Here I am. With you. Here I’ll stay, with you.” She leans into him and falls asleep, immediately and dreamlessly.

Emma Alvarez Gibson lives in Los Angeles and generally has 87 projects going on at once. 

Twitter: @ealvarezgibson
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