Friday Flash Fiction – Where it Began

Today’s Friday Flash Fiction prompt made me think of Matthew Stirling, one of the wizard characters in my Triad books, who also appeared in “Bound,” a short story in Not Just Another Pretty Face. There, Matthew is trying hard to get a gift for prescience under control—and is led to a handsome werewolf named Jace for the solution. Since the two got together, Matthew’s got his gift under control for the most part, but sometimes it still pops up without being asked. And he’s learned to pay attention when it does.


Flash Friday

Where it Began

The snow was more wet than cold. Matthew raised his umbrella. It was still snow, though. It was definitely snow.

In London.

“I feel like maybe I should order beef chow mein.”

Matthew turned. Jace walked up to him holding two cups that steamed in the cold air.

“What?” He took one of the cups, grateful for the warmth and the coffee. Jet lag sucked.

“Beef chow mein? From Lee Ho Fook?” Jace wagged his eyebrows.

“I don’t know it,” Matthew said.

“Children today,” Jace said. “No ear for the classics.”

“A-ooo!” Matthew howled quietly, and poked Jace in the chest. “A werewolf in London.”

“You had me going.” Jace wrapped one arm around him. “So. Where to next?”

Matthew exhaled a small cloud into the air, a huff of frustration. “I’m not sure. It’s…” He bit his bottom lip. “This is exactly what I saw, but…”

Jace squeezed him. The big man regarded him for a few long seconds. “We should have dinner.”

“Beef chow mein?”

“Nah. Something local. Fish and chips, right? That’s a London thing.” He grinned. “And some good stout. I’ve never been out of Canada, and I know we’re not here for fun, but why not?”

Matthew nodded. “Good idea. Although I have no idea what time it is in my head.”

“I’ll go ask where the food is good,” Jace said, and with a quick kiss to Matthew’s forehead, he stepped away from the umbrella, walking back to the stall where he’d gotten their drinks.

Matthew took a sip, and stared back across at Big Ben.

Exactly as he’d been dreaming it, the snow that was almost slush. The few people. The umbrella.

Why here? He knew the Stirlings could trace itself back to London. Hell, most of the Families could. But why a vision of London? It almost never snowed here, and yet here he was, with Jace, coming all this way just for a weekend in December because his dreams—his gift—had shown him this.

Water was his element. Snow and rain. Matthew Stirling closed his eyes, gathered his thoughts, and then opened again to look.

“It started here,” Matthew said. The words were out before he even knew he was going to say anything. His gift was like that sometimes.

Now he just had to figure out what it was.

Jace waved. Matthew turned, smiled, and lowered his umbrella.

This was a long way to come just to figure out he needed to dig through history to figure out what was coming. Still. Jace had a point.

As he walked over, Matthew admired the wideness of Jace’s shoulders beneath his jacket, and the way he moved his hands when he talked to the guy in the coffee stand.

They’d fly back on Monday. After that? He could start trying to figure out what dark thing had begun here that was sneaking its way into his dreams.

And in the meanwhile, he was with a werewolf in London.

“A-ooo,” Matthew said.

 

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Monday Flash Fic – Motivation is Everything

I’m coming in just at the last minute today, but the flash fiction group, Monday Flash Fics had a picture I couldn’t resist that reminded me of my heroes from Light. This one definitely, however, invokes a spoiler warning. If you haven’t read Light, you’ll want to skip, but since Light came out four years ago now, I feel safe returning to the characters.

Monday Flash Fic
Motivation is Everything

“I am never going to get this right.” Sebastien’s voice dropped to a growl.

Kieran, sitting cross legged on the floor, looked up at him and grinned. “You’re doing fine.”

Sebastien crossed his arms, and given he was currently wearing thick socks, a black jockstrap, and a leather harness, Kieran got to enjoy all the many things the crossing of Sebastien’s arms did to his chest and shoulders.

“I’m not doing fine.” When he got frustrated, his French Canadian accent got stronger.

“Try again. I’ll help.”

Sebastien exhaled. “Fine.”

Behind those lovely, muscular, hairy legs—seriously, Sebastien’s thighs alone inspired very many thoughts—Sebastien’s left boot tipped itself up.

So far, so good.

After that, though, it just sat there, upright.

“It’s not lifting,” Sebastien said.

Kieran leaned forward, and reached out with his mind. A moment later, he could feel Sebastien’s frustration like a hum in his own brain. Also there was a stream of thoughts in French that were going by too fast for him to even try translating. And beneath that, he could feel the teke Sebastien had formed.

It was fuzzy, and unlike the man in front of him, not very strong. Normally, Sebastien’s teke was decent, but today he was trying to teke something he wasn’t looking at, which was a new challenge.

Kieran reached out with his own teke, and it snapped into being with a speed he wasn’t used to. He dialed it way back, and did his best to help Sebastien tighten the mental hand he was wielding behind him. His own teke nudged the one Sebastien had tried to make.

“I can’t do this when I can’t see what I’m looking at.”

“It takes practice.”

“It’s impossible.”

“Says the man who held an entire float above our heads.”

“You did that.”

“No,” Kieran held up his hand. “Nope. That was you. You were the one handling the weight.”

Sebastien sighed in frustration again, frowned, and concentrated.

Kieran nudged his teke, just a little.

The boot rose an inch of the ground. Thanks to Kieran’s help, it also glowed a pale yellow.

Kieran grinned.

Sebastien’s eyes widened. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“It did.”

Sebastien raised his fists in the air. That also did amazing things to the muscles on display.

The boot thudded back onto the ground.

“I dropped it,” Sebastien said, annoyed. He lowered his hands.

“Hey, relax,” Kieran said. “It took me years to teke something behind my back. Years. You’re almost there and it’s been, what, three weeks? You’ve got something I didn’t have.”

Sebastien raised an eyebrow. “I do?”

“Me,” Kieran said. “You have me to show you the way.”

Sebastien’s smile turned wicked. “This is not how I’d like to have you.”

“We talked about this,” Kieran said, and took the opportunity to stretch his legs where he sat on the bedroom floor. “Once you can get both boots in the air, you get to decide what we do next.”

Sebastien closed his eyes to try again.

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction – Mr. August

The wonderful Friday Flash Fics challenge continues. Today’s characters aren’t from one of my published pieces, but instead from my Village project, a series of Novellas set in a fictional version of the Ottawa gay village where a bit of magic happens to come through. There’s no actual magic happening here, but as you can see from the picture that inspired it, there’s all kinds of magic.


Flash Friday 4

“I look ridiculous.”

Caleb lowered his camera and waited. Beside him, Jian tapped a thumb against his bottom lip, a line appearing between his eyebrows.

Uh-oh.

“You’re right,” Jian said.

That was a surprise.

Jian stepped forward and picked up the drafting pencil. “Put this in your mouth.”

The shirtless, muscular man in front of them both stared at Jian.

“Are you kidding?”

“It’ll add sizzle, Angelo.” Jian waved the pencil like a wand.

“No one does woodwork half-naked with their jeans hanging off their ass.” Angelo raised the saw in his right hand. “This isn’t even the right saw.”

“No one will be looking at your saw.”

Caleb couldn’t hold it back any more. He snorted.

Both Jian and Angelo turned to him with twin looks of annoyance.

“Sorry.” Caleb tried not to draw attention, usually. Not on purpose. Odd things tended to happen when he paid too much attention to people.

“Pencil,” Jian turned back, holding out the pencil again.

Angelo crossed his arms and raised his chin.

Enough. At this rate, they’d never get a good shot. Caleb put his camera down. “Angelo? Jian?”

Both men aimed their angry glares at him. He flinched, but he cleared his throat. He liked things better when he had his camera between him and the world. Especially when the world was made up of a shirtless hunk and an annoyed drama bear.

Caleb cleared his throat. It took him a second to find his voice. “This is for charity. This is our first shoot. There are eleven more months after this, and it would be fantastic if we could have the calendar actually ready to sell before, y’know, next January.”

Jian opened his mouth.

“Not done,” Caleb said. “Jian? We all know you know your stuff. No one sets a stage like you. We’ve seen your plays, you’ve worked magic and it totally looks like a woodshop in here. But if Angelo says it’s the wrong saw? It’s the wrong saw.”

Angelo grinned and opened his mouth.

“Still not done,” Caleb said. “Angelo, we are so, so appreciative you’re doing this. And while I get you’d like things to look professional, here’s the thing: this isn’t a woodworking manual. The VBA is counting on this calendar. You’re our August. Decks, deck-building, deck-weather. And you look…” He swallowed. “Well…trust me. Jian’s lighting, the make-up? You’re many things Angelo, but none of them are ridiculous.”

Caleb waited. Both men were staring. They looked a little shell-shocked.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m done.”

“Sorry,” Jian said, at exactly the same moment Angelo said “My bad.”

They grinned at each other.

Caleb raised his camera. “Shall we?”

Jian stepped back. But Angelo raised his hand. “Wait.”

Caleb sighed. So much for speaking up. He wasn’t sure what else he could say, but—

“Pencil,” Angelo said.

Jian handed it to him, and Angelo put it in his mouth, picked up the saw, and stood over the piece of wood.

Caleb raised the camera and started shooting.

 

Monday Flash Fic – Glimpse

It’s possible I found another flash fiction group, Monday Flash Fics. I don’t imagine I’ll often manage both Mondays and Fridays, but the Monday pic just posted was so perfect for two of the characters in my Village novella project that I couldn’t help myself.


Monday Flash Fic

Caleb yawned. After a long day photographing animals for Furever’s rescue program, he’d finished cropping and retouching any obvious problems. The photos finished uploading to the shared folder. Justin and Mat would put them together for the new website, and then the rescue program would be ready to go.

Caleb yawned again, and eyed his bed.

How many people had he made eye contact with today? Too many. But he couldn’t stay awake forever. He brushed his teeth and stripped down to his boxers. Crawling into bed, he set his alarm and exhaled.

Just like every night, Caleb looked up at the ceiling and asked the usual.

Nothing awful, please.

Caleb closed his eyes.

*

Justin and Gabe were married. It was a gorgeous day, they looked amazing, and the light was perfect. Caleb couldn’t help it, he always thought with a photographer’s eye.

Even when the eyes he was using weren’t his.

He half-heartedly hunted for clues, but didn’t find any. Sometimes he’d glimpse a newspaper, or whoever he was checked their phone, but not right now. Someone was giving a speech—Marion, he thought, just a second before his head turned and she came into view, proving him right. The older woman looked much the same as when he’d seen her in the park that afternoon, only now she wore a gorgeous peach suit and held up a glass of champagne.

“I’m going to let you in on a secret,” Marion said, with a tiny smile. “These two? Only got together because of me.”

Whoever’s point of view it was that Caleb was enjoying stole a glance at the grooms. Justin leaned in and whispered something in Gabe’s ear, and Gabe laughed. Just for a second, Justin leaned his forehead against Gabe’s, and they both closed their eyes as Marion described how a flustered Gabe had needed a push to even introduce himself to Justin—a push she’d been happy to provide. Both men laughed.

*

The alarm woke him. Caleb stretched.

Thank you, he thought, eyeing the ceiling. As futures went, that had been a lovely one to glimpse.

He was the last one to their small office. Justin leaned over Mat’s shoulder, pointing at something on the screen.

“Good morning,” Justin said, when Caleb came in. “You were up late.”

“These are great.” Mat nodded to his computer. “Furever is going to run out of animals.”

“We can hope.” Caleb lifted a paper bag. “I stopped at Sweet Temptations.”

“I love you,” Justin said.

“Don’t let Gabe hear you say that,” Mat said.

Caleb glanced down. “How are you guys doing?”

“Great.” Justin grinned. Then it faltered. “Too great?”

“Oh my God,” Mat said. “Why can’t you enjoy a good thing?”

“It’s just…” Justin blew out a breath. “It’s new. I shouldn’t jinx it.”

Caleb smiled.

“What?” Justin said.

“Nothing. But, I think you two are good for the long run. Didn’t Marion introduce you?”

Justin blinked. “Sort of. How’d you know?”

“I heard it somewhere.”

 

Not That Kind of Sub

There are a couple of parallel discussions going on right now that have Venn-diagrammed their way into my feeds, and last night’s #RWChat cemented something I’ve been feeling vaguely “off” about for a while.

I’m not a sub-genre.

Let me explain.

Sub-Genres of Romance

There are a couple of places you can go to get different lists of sub-genres for Romance. Obviously, the RWA has a list: Contemporary, Erotic, Historical, Paranormal, Religious/Spiritual, Suspense, and YA. Wikipedia adds a couple: breaking down part of what the RWA calls Paranormal into Science Fiction and Time-Travel, and adding Multicultural (more on that in a bit).

That was the stage set, so to speak, for the discussion on #RWChat about sub-genres in romance, and one of the questions was “should there be new sub-genres?” and, of course, queer came up as a suggestion.

And that’s where I started to flinch.

Queer as a Sub-Genre?

Now, before I start, I do want to point out where the notion comes from in the minds of most, and that it’s from a good place. Let’s be honest, queer characters don’t get the recognition in romance that their allocishet counterpart characters do. That’s just the current reality.

To ground this in my own experience, I’ve been waffling over joining the local chapter of the RWA. I got invited to a lunch, I already know a few of the authors though awesome events like Romancing the Capital, and my romance output is rising, so it seemed like something worth exploring. Shortly into the dinner, one of the authors announced that they didn’t believe men could be bisexual.

So. I had a choice. I could make a bit of a scene and speak out, or I could wait and see what happened. I chose the latter (I regret that) and nothing happened. I think I managed a weak “I’m not sure you get to decide that,” a few moments later than would be effective.

I haven’t joined the RWA. Maybe another year.

So, when I see organizations like the RWA and their awards go (almost exclusively) to allocishet characters, I’m totally not surprised. And I get why it seems like making a sub-genre just for queer characters is a great idea. I can even see how there’s some merit to it.

Yes, Queer is a Sub-Genre!

For one? There’d be a queer winner of a RITA every year, right? There’d have to be, if there was a sub-genre just for queer characters in romance, rather than the occasional one here and there, and some years not at all.

For another? Visibility. Those titles short-listed would be a quick, easy, one-stop shop to show people some queer characters in romance.

Even more? Legitimacy. If someone like the RWA (okay, maybe not my local chapter) was loud about saying “Queer Characters are Welcome in Romance!” that’s a big deal. Their history with that isn’t so great, and it would go a long way.

So why don’t I like it?

No, Queer isn’t a Sub-Genre!

Honestly? It’s the flip side of the positives I listed above.

For one? There’d be only one winner of a RITA every year with a queer character, because any book with a queer character would be shunted into the queer character box. Never mind if there was a contemporary romance with queer characters that was far and away better than the allocishet character contemporaries on the short list, and also a YA romance with amazing trans characters that blew the allocishet character YA romance shortlist out of the water: only one of them could win. Because they’re queer, and they get one award, competing against each other, even though they’re vastly different sub-genres with only their queerness in common.

For another? The rest of the awards become a queer-free zone by default, and the notion of allocishet characters as “normal” or “default” is increased. Because if there’s one queer romance sub-genre, but thirteen other genres that aren’t, how is that not the message? Books with allocishet characters would get to be considered in groupings of their plots, tropes, and against similar titles. But queer would judged for being queer.

Last? From a publishing point of view, it can actively delegitimize. “We have a sub-genre for queer stories” sounds solid until that becomes a limitation. Think about what women of colour face in the romance world (and, thereby, their characters). “No, we have the four titles we’re publishing for our black-women line this month.” “Oh, but my book is a romantic suspense with a black lead, you publish eight romantic suspenses a month, so…” “No. It’s a black-woman, so it only goes here. Four titles a month. Period.” This is why I get twitchy about “Multicultural” as a sub-genre, too.

Not to mention queer people of colour exist. Where do they go? The multicultural romance, or the queer romance? Which one trumps the other? This is why “people as a sub-genre” gets messy. People are messy. We don’t fit one box.

Oh, yeah, and what happens when that line gets canceled?

Okay, Smart-Guy, Solutions?

Yeah, I didn’t say I had a solution.

Well, no, I do: judge romances with queer characters alongside those with allocishet romances and do so on a level playing field with judges capable of reading them without bias but ha ha ha, yeah. I could barely finish that with a straight face. After all, men can’t be bisexual, right?

Heavy sigh.

The good news is I’ve heard from other readers that romances with queer characters are making strides. Radclyffe, who writes lesbian romances across many romance sub-genres, has been a finalist in many RWA chapter contests in the correct sub-genre category for her books (thanks for that info, Ruth!). That’s progress.

I also totally respect the opposing opinion here. I’m just as tired as anyone else of queer characters barely making it to the foreground of awards and recognition and bestseller lists, and I can empathize with “I don’t care if it means there’s just one winner every year and one short list. At least it would exist and shows we exist.” Like I said above, that’s a fair freaking point.

And maybe it has to go through that step first in places like the RWA, with the ultimate goal of later disentangling it into the sub-genre awards? I don’t know. But I think things like the Rainbow Awards, the Publishing Triangle Awards, and the Lambda Literary Awards (and other queer awards) fill a niche of queer-character writing awards, and they have genre breakdowns built-in. It’s still about the genres there.

I want places like the RWA and Goodreads to step up, not pen us in.

So, I guess, that’s my solution. Not that the RWA and Goodreads will do it, but that we need to make them do it. Groups like Women of Color in Romance (if you don’t follow them, go follow them, right now) do fantastic work to make noise and highlight the incredibly talented women of color writing romance out there who already exist but don’t get the same massive attention the white authors do because publishing is so very, very white.

Publishing is also so very, very allocishet.

I want more noise. Noise about all the #ownvoice writers and characters that exist in romance—queers included—and maybe that’s what it will take to get those books on the shortlists in the sub-genre categories where they belong.

Wait, Goodreads?

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Handmade Holidays is a contemporary romance. It has gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people in it. It’s still a contemporary romance.

Yeah, that was the other circle on the Venn Diagram, and I don’t want to say it all again, but once again the Goodreads Choice Awards are up, and soon it’ll be time to vote and there’s a petition going around to create an LGBTQ+ category to vote in.

And all those same reasons for it to be good—and bad—apply. Because I think back to 2014, and Two Boys Kissing deserved to be the winner in YA, not LGBTQ+. Ditto They Both Die at the End this year.

But there were next to no books with queer characters on the initial list of titles. And that’s not a surprise. Because while queer people are expected to read allocishet books and be satisfied, the opposite isn’t true. And no one can force someone to read a book they don’t want to read. We’re outnumbered, and will always be so.

So, no. I’ve got no happy solution. But I did write-in a book with queer-characters into every slot where I thought that book was the best book I’d read this year. That’s what I can do with the system the way it is, and so I do. And sometimes I didn’t add a book with queer-characters (I voted for The Hate U Give in YA, even though there’s zero queer content, because that book was amazeballs and freaking important and I want it to win all the prizes and I hope They Both Die at the End wins all the Lammies and PTAs and Rainbows and that’s why I love that there are queer-character awards, too).

I’m not a Sub-Genre.

My final thoughts on this snarl are exactly that: just mine. I’m not speaking for all of queer kind here. I can’t. I’m only queer in my own way.

As a reader, I want to see queer reality in all the genres. In science fiction, in mystery, in literature, in romance, in YA, in all the categories. All of them. Even horror, which I barely read. Readers deserve to see themselves. The magic of digital tagging means readers can drill down to find those titles, too.

But I—again, just me, speaking for me—don’t want it to be “Queer,” with a sub-category of “Romance” if that means when I click “Romance” there will be no queer. Queer belongs in romance. Period. I want to click “Romance,” and then “Contemporary” and then be able to find the queer titles. And I want to see shortlists for awards where “Contemporary Short-form Romance” includes a novella with trans characters.

If that means places like the RWA have to learn men can be bisexuals first? Well. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and get back to teaching instead of waiting to hear what they currently say.

 

Friday Flash Fiction – The Next When

The wonderful Elizabeth Lister‘s Friday Flash Fics challenge continues. Today’s picture suited perfectly for a moment that takes place in Ian’s life shortly after the events of one of the stories in my upcoming collection of short fiction, Of Echoes Born, so I decided to flesh it out a bit for the challenge. I have a feeling you’ll see more of the characters from that collection as these challenges continue.


Flash Friday 3

Ian woke early. Three hours ahead as far as time zones were concerned, he had all the joy of watching the sunrise and none of the grogginess. As far as first days on vacation went, it didn’t completely suck. He had a whole week on his own ahead of him.

He eyed the other side of the bed. Empty.

Okay, he had the whole of forever on his own ahead of him.

That hadn’t been the plan. But this morning? He didn’t mind.

That Ian had a lot to look forward to at the end of the week didn’t hurt. Friends. Big decisions. Huge ones.

The kettle whistled. He made a pot of tea, grabbed a hoodie, and settled on the deck of the cabin, waiting. The pale light in the distance gave way over two cups of tea, living up to the website’s promises. The strait blazed with reds, oranges, golds and, eventually, yellows.

He smiled to himself, thinking of colours, and pushed.

There wasn’t much here, but his gaze caught on the edge of the deck, near the steps, and the world fractured where he looked.

A couple appeared. Much later in the day, and unless he was mistaken, a warmer time of year. He couldn’t quite pinpoint the when, but the two were in their seventies or so, holding hands as they stepped down, the man pausing at each step for the woman to catch up.

Ian rose, holding on to the sight. He followed them down gravel path, and then along the road itself. They were in no hurry. Twice the man pointed at something. The woman would look, often smiling at him after, nodding, and touching his arm.

A bird? A flower?

Ian smiled, content to never know.

They held hands again, walking on.

Ian followed, sliding his hands into his hoodie pocket, feeling the rising sun start to nibble some of the chill from the air. A light rain began to fall—not touching the older couple—and Ian pulled up his hood.

It was getting easier. He shouldn’t be surprised, of course. Not that long ago, it had been second nature to look the way he could look. The colours had never gone, the auras around people, those he couldn’t shut out, but this other thing, this way to see into another when

He’d closed that door.

The couple paused again. Ian almost glanced where the man pointed, but there’d be nothing there. Not in the now.

He’d come a long way down the road with them. A sign ahead noted a curve.

Ian stood still, watching the couple once they started walking again, and only letting go of the vision once they slipped around the bend, a little piece of a sunny when.

The fractures in the air mended.

Even he couldn’t see around corners.

It made him smile.

Ian turned, and started back for the cabin. Breakfast. And then…

Then whatever happened after would happen.