Hello! “A Little Village Blend” released on the Bold Strokes Books webstore today! (It’ll go wide everywhere else on the 13th, don’t worry!)
According to Ivan’s sister Anya, Ivan’s tea leaves promise his perfect match is out there somewhere, just waiting to be swept off their feet. Ivan knows Anya’s always right—an annoying trait for a sister if ever there was one.
Ivan’s own knack with tea might not deal with the future, but it’s pretty good at helping with the here and now. When Walt, a tall, dark, and grumpy soldier shows up at his store, NiceTeas, in obvious need of a hand—and a dog-sitter—Ivan rises to the challenge and offers blends to make Walt’s life a little easier. There’s just no way he can help falling for the guy. But Anya says Walt’s not the one for Ivan, and the tea leaves don’t lie.
Is it worth steeping a here-and-now while waiting for the one-and-only? Ivan’s not sure, but everything tells him it’s all just a matter of finding the right blend.A Little Village Blend
Now, if you’re a fan of the Village novellas that were holiday themed, I wanted to make sure I took some time to explain how this novella is absolutely in the same Village as the other stories, but goes back to the contemoprary-with-a-dash-of-magic side of things, rather than the contemporary (no magic) holidays. I mean, there was the magic of friendship and found family and the like in those holiday stories, but you get what I mean. No sparkly blue magic. (Did I mention I love the sparkly blue magic on the cover, because I love the sparkly blue magic on the cover. Inkspiral is amazing.)
Is there an order to this?
Yes, but no. See, I worked hard to make sure you can read the various Village tales in whatever order you’d like, but I also know saying “you can read them out of order” causes actual pain to fire in the nerves of many, many readers (you’re my people), and so, this blog post.
The last time I sat down to think about this, “Village Fool” had just come out and I revisited just how long I’d been dipping into this fictionalized version of the local gay village: since the very first story I had published. But, to put this into some sense of order that might make sense for a reader trying to find their way through the Village, I’ll aim for something chronological from within the narratives themselves.
Now, because I also know posts like this are TL;DRs in text form, I’m going to start at the end. Here’s the current chronological order of the various Village stories and novellas:
- “There & Then” (short story) in Of Echoes Born.
- “Heart” (short story) in Fool for Love, and reprinted in Of Echoes Born.
- A Little Village Magic (novelette) in Of Echoes Born.
- A Little Village Blend (novelette).
- “Vanilla” (short story)* in Threesome: Him, Him, and Me.
- “Pentimento” (short story) in Of Echoes Born.
- Handmade Holidays (novella).
- Saving the Date (novella)*.
- “Negative Space” (short story) in Of Echoes Born.
- “Elsewhen” (short story)* in Riding the Rails, and reprinted in Of Echoes Born.
- “Here & Now” (short story) in Of Echoes Born.
- Faux Ho Ho (novella).
- Village Fool (novella).
(* Note, the asterisks up there are for the stories and novellas containing erotic content—the vast majority of the Village tales do not, but those three do. So, y’know, be aware.)
Now, I should probably explain what the Village even is, no?
A Dash of Magic (Sometimes)
My fictionalized Village is a version of Ottawa the way it sort-of is, with our small “Golden Triangle” that sits on Bank Street for a few blocks and is a short piece of queerness and queer history you can quite literally walk through with a few spare minutes. It’s heavily adjusted for some of my own nostalgia of what it was like in the days where the queer businesses thrived, and I should note there’s a wonderful movement, The Village Legacy Project, highlighting this past and making sure it’s there for future generations, especially as those small businesses fade in light of the net and social change—but not necessarily the education of queer history—makes forward motion.
In my version of the Village, there’s a dash of magic running through the world, and that all starts with a young man named Gabriel, and from there, the population of the Village began to grow. Some of it magic, some of it less so, but all of it queer.
But first, even before Gabriel, there was Ian (or Christian, as his parents named him, before he dropped the first six letters from his name). We meet sixteen year old Christian Simon in “There & Then,” the opening story of my first collection, Of Echoes Born, but the story takes place before he moves to Ottawa, so it’s almost a prelude to the Village stories. Then Ian shows up for half-a-second in my first-ever published short story, “Heart,” included in Fool for Love, which does take place in Ottawa, and by virtue of the main character, Aiden, having a gift for healing, becomes the first real story with that dash of magic set in Ottawa.
And then we get back to Gabriel, and the real birth of the Village occurs.
The Village Starts with a Symbol
Gabriel works part-time at one of the small businesses in the Village, Third Eye, which is run by Bailey Haliburton (more on her later). Third Eye is a new age and occult store, and Gabriel, a student of religion and philosophy working toward a degree, finds it all fascinating, but doesn’t really believe in anything himself, least of all magic. He considers Bailey’s discussions of which crystals can help people with whatever problem a harmless bit of amusement, and mostly he just keeps his head down and his grades up and hopes for the best. Instead, in the novelette “A Little Village Magic” (included in Of Echoes Born), Gabriel discovers it doesn’t matter if you believe in magic when magic believes in you. A side-effect of Gabriel’s realization is a kind of revitalization of a spark in the Village in the form of a memorial mural, and that carries forward through the rest of the stories set there. In “A Little Village Magic,” you also meet the owner of a tea-shoppe, Ivan, and at one point Bailey and Gabriel note that Ivan apparently has some secrets of his own, given the sense of magic Gabriel gets from a cup of tea during the story.
A little while later, Avery comes to the Village after the death of his grandmother, and decides to take a shot at re-opening his grandmother’s chocolate and fine gourmet candy store, Sweet Temptations. Avery has a gift of his own: when he makes art with his bare hands, the pieces tend to get a kind of “boost” that nudges them into magical territory, and it turns out this is no different when he makes chocolates. That short story, “Vanilla,” appears in Threesome: Him, Him, and Me. (This is one of the only Village stories I wrote with erotic content, as for the most part they’re G-rated. This one is absolutely not G-rated.) You also meet Pete Marlin here, the manager of the small chain of fair-trade coffee shops known as Bittersweets.
After that, a fellow named Michel, who owns the gallery in the Village, FunkArt, inherits something beautiful (but sad) when a mentor passes away, and his skill for artistic mimicry that sends change both forward and back throughout the Village in “Pentimento” (which appears in Of Echoes Born).
And then it’s time for tea.
Steeping Up a Happy Ending
As I mentioned, we meet Ivan in passing in “A Little Village Magic” (which appears in Of Echoes Born) and Gabriel and Bailey note there’s just something about the tea he brews. Well, a month or so later, the events of A Little Village Blend start, when Ivan finds himself face-to-face with a beautiful husky with mismatched eyes, as well as a tall, dark, and grumpy soldier who looks like he needs some help.
Now, Ivan’s magical gift is more about the here-and-now than anything else: he can whip you up an Earl Grey that comes with an admixture of extra willpower on a tough day, or something more herbal if you’re in the need of some patience or the like. He tends to use his gift softly, helping people without too much fanfare, really. His sister, on the other hand? Anya is much more flashy, and she has a gift for reading tea leaves and, more importantly—and this is one of the singular most annoying traits ever to be found in a sister, in Ivan’s opinion—she’s never wrong.
So when that tall, dark, and grumpy soldier needs a hand, then a dog-sitter, and Ivan’s heart starts to find itself thumping along with the dog’s tail? His sister does what she always does and checks the future and says that the tall, dark, and grumpy soldier is not the one for Ivan.
Now if only Ivan could get his heart to agree. That’s the newest of these trips to the Village, and the dash of magic is there, but hopefully doesn’t overwhelm for those who aren’t as keen on the speculative. And, like I said, while it’s available right now from Bold Strokes Books’ webstore (in any e-format you’d like), if you’re waiting for your preferred e-tailer, it’ll be out on the 13th.
We Need a Little Christmas
Then we hit my first real deep-dive into the Village in the form of a novella, Handmade Holidays. Handmade Holidays is a contemporary queer chosen-family holiday romance, and it takes place over fifteen years in the Village, and follows Nicholas Wilson as he navigates being disowned for the holidays alongside some wonderful chosen family: “The Misfit Toys.” This is the first of these stories to not contain any specific magic, but there’s magic happening all around Nick and his friends of a different sort.
Now, since Handmade Holidays takes place over fifteen years, a couple of the other Village stories are kind-of/sort-of tucked inside that timeline, but Handmade Holidays starts before them, so it makes more sense to put them after in a chronology. Next comes Saving the Date, which I co-wrote with Angela S. Stone, and introduces Morgan, a young man who has reached a point in his life where the anniversary of a night of violence is something he wants to try and change. He signs up for a date through a matchmaking service, and ends up with more than a one night stand (and you get to visit with some of the Misfit Toys here, too).
The next two visits to the Village happen back in Of Echoes Born again, with “Negative Space” and “Elsewhen” spinning stories around two people in the Village who are new for their own particular stories. “Negative Space” introduces André, an artist who has access to information that could solve murders thanks to a hard-gained gift; and “Elsewhen” (originally printed in Riding the Rails, and the other Village story with erotic content) introduces two men named Julian, one of whom can interact with the past of the other, who has an opportunity to set things to a right that couldn’t be when they first happened.
Ian Arrives, Fake Dating, and April Fools’ Day
Then we get back to Ian, who is now living in Ottawa, managing his second-hand bookstore The Second Page in the Village, and who has come mostly to terms with his gift for seeing auras and glimpsing the past or future. The final story in Of Echoes Born, “Here & Now,” belongs to Ian and brings the collection to a whole greater than the sum of its parts in a very Village way.
And after that? After that we get back to a holiday season with Faux Ho Ho, which not only revisits many of the Misfit Toys, but name-drops quite a few people who live in the Village during the course of Silas and Dino’s misadventures with their fake relationship and Silas’s sister’s Christmas Wedding and the nine months that lead up to them deciding they can totally pretend to be boyfriends for a few days.
It doesn’t go as planned, of course, but it does end happily, given that we’re talking a romance. It also has a scene where a certain joke is mentioned. Silas mentions in passing how a very bad April Fools’ Day joke (perpetrated by Felix upon Owen) ended up with Owen and his boyfriend, Toma, getting together.
That joke is the next in the holiday series of Little Village novellas, which was Village Fool.
In Village Fool, exactly that happens: Owen, on April Fools’ Day, doesn’t realize that Felix has nabbed his phone long enough to pull a prank on him: Felix has changed some of his contacts. Owen, who is shy and not at all flirty or forward, then proceeds to spend most of the morning of April Fools’ Day writing flirty and forward texts that he believes he’s sending to Felix, but is in fact sending to Toma.
Who is the subject of those flirty and forward texts.
You’ve heard of meet-cutes, right? This is more of a disaster-cute, but again, the joy of writing romance is you know going in that things will work out happily, and they do. Y’know, post-disaster.
That brings you up to speed on the who, and the when, of the Village stories if you want to be completely completionist about the whole thing. There are stories I’d call Village-adjacent (most centrally all the other tales I’ve not mentioned in Of Echoes Born) which absolutely take place in the same shared present, usually with a dash of magic, but they’re not set in the Village, or they have characters who have yet to make an appearance in the Village (or who do appear in the Village, but are just mentioned in passing in the story without appearing, which brings me back to Bailey Haliburton, who does just that in “The Psychometry of Snow”).
So whether you’d prefer something chocolately from Sweet Temptations, or something caffeinated from Bittersweets, or maybe something a bit healthier from NiceTeas, I hope you enjoy a visit to the Village.