Sunday Shorts – “Double Up,” by Vanessa North

CoverWhen I go on vacation, I try to read things that suit if I can. So when I saw this novella by Vanessa North was about wakeboarding, and I was heading to Hawai’i, I figured beachside reading about a beachside sport would be just about perfect.

And I was right.

Knowing he’s loved can make any man fly.

Fifteen years ago, Ben Warren was a wakeboarding champion: king of big air, ballsy tricks, and boned grabs. Until a career-ending injury left him broken in ways he still has no hope of fixing. Now he takes his thrills where he can get them, and tries not to let life hurt too much.

Then Davis Fox arrives in Ben’s sporting goods store with a plan to get in touch with his estranged brother by competing in the annual wakeboarding double-up contest. The catch? He’s never ridden before. It’s crazy, but Ben’s a sucker for the guy’s sob story—and for his dimples, too—so he agrees to coach Davis.

Davis is everything Ben isn’t: successful, confident, and in love with life. And he wants Ben to love life—and him—too. But before Ben can embrace a future with Davis, he needs to remember how to hope.


Okay, there is a lot to love in this novella. First off, Ben’s character was well written: he’s a former athlete, he suffered a major injury, and his recovery was by no means an easy journey, and he’s living with chronic pain. Ben comes across as someone who has—in many ways—given up on “better” and is enjoying moments of happiness as he can snatch them (which includes fun sex with hot guys when he can grab it). Ben’s living very much on the sometimes tough-love and kindness of Eddie, his friend, former once-tumbled-into-bed, and super-swish gay buddy who is wealthy and owns the business where Ben works (and adds cachet).

Davis Fox is a gay man rejected by his homophobic family who wants a shot at reconnecting with his stepbrother. Davis is an architect, a gosh-sweet-blushing sort of guy, and he hires Ben to teach him to wakeboard—because his younger step-brother is a bit of a wakeboarding prodigy, and there’s a contest coming up where they could both enter and have a chance to reconnect and talk out of the reach of their people.

They connect, miscommunicate, take terrible risks, screw up, and eventually come clean with each other about how they feel, what they’re afraid of, and of course delivers a happy ending for the reader. My only quibble—and it’s a minor one—is something I see pop up quite a bit in m/m romance, and that’s the whole “I don’t bottom, but I’ll bottom for you” thing. I know it’s a reader favourite, but it always makes me cringe just a wee bit. That said, Double Up is a solid journey, has some very sexy moments, and was a great read for my holiday.


Author of over a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories, Vanessa North delights in giving happy-ever-afters to characters who don’t think they deserve them. Relentless curiosity led her to take up knitting and run a few marathons “just to see if she could.” She started writing for the same reason. Her very patient husband pretends not to notice when her hobbies take over the house. Living and writing in Northwest Georgia, she finds her attempts to keep a quiet home are frequently thwarted by twin boy-children and a very, very large dog.

Sunday Shorts – “Rebound Remedy,” by Christine d’Abo

CoverAs I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few times, I listen to audiobooks around the holidays, and I often try to listen to holiday-themed audiobooks, too, to make it possible to try and restore some smidgeon of my holiday spirit after two decades in retail.

It’s February now, but this latest story, Rebound Remedy, was the last short audio I listened to last Christmas, and it was a fun, light, pick-me-up tale.

The last thing Cole expects to get for the holidays is dumped. But there he is, in the airport on his way to Banff for a romantic getaway, helplessly watching as his boyfriend’s ex declares undying love, proposes—and is accepted. With a few weeks to go until Christmas, Cole’s mood dives from jolly to jaded. But instead of sitting at home alone and feeling sorry for himself, he goes to his favorite bar, McGregor’s, for a pint and some company.

The moment Owen McGregor sets eyes on Cole, he knows there’s something wrong. So he takes it upon himself to ensure that Cole has a happy holiday: twelve outings for the twelve days before Christmas. Even if he can’t quite think up twelve activities that don’t involve getting the forlorn hunk into his bed.

With each outing they take together, Cole realizes that the love he thought he’d shared with his ex was less than perfect. And that Owen might prove to be more than just his rebound remedy.


The blurb gives away the vast majority of this story, and overall, this one was a feel-good piece that lasted me a few walkings of the dog, and pretty much was cheerful and upbeat. There are some good comedy moments (Cole, who is a “helps others as a reflex” kind of guy, earns a shiner for his efforts helping Owen wrangle a drunk into a cab), and this is the beginning of Owen’s “I’m going to restore your Christmas spirit,” campaign.

On that level, I enjoyed the story. Owen has his own struggles going on, and the intersection of Cole and Owen’s spark of attraction, the resistance from Owen to be a rebound guy for Cole, and Cole being raw from getting spectacularly dumped all turns into a snarl of miscommunication and emotional wariness that I bought. The reader did a good job with the voices, too (especially Owen’s) and I liked that.

There were some “pardon?” moments of queer authenticity troubles—most especially was one in particular, when the guys are getting physical, and Cole’s tongue wanders a bit, and there’s this moment where they kind of talk about how none of Cole’s past boyfriends (the reader is left with the sense that there are quite a few as he’s a gay guy with a libido). The conversation turns to how these past boyfriends weren’t really into kink, and… well… we’re talking about rimming. Just, rimming. It threw me out of the narrative, as I can’t imagine the series of boyfriends a gay guy would have to have for rimming to not ever have appeared as an experience, period. Rimming isn’t particularly kinky on the scale of things. I get everyone has their own comfort zones, but it just struck me as so incredibly unlikely.

I kept going with the book, but it was an odd moment and I had to chuckle a few times after.

Overall, this was an enjoyable, easy listen, and if you’re willing to overlook a moment or two here and there, and want a well-performed piece, Rebound Remedy can fit the spot for a holiday listen.


A romance novelist and short story writer, Christine d’Abo has over thirty publications to her name. She loves to exercise and stops writing just long enough to keep her body in motion too. When she’s not pretending to be a ninja in her basement, she’s most likely spending time with her family and two dogs.

Writing Wednesday – Gone Fishin’.

 

Have you ever had one of those moments in the middle of winter when you think, I need to get out of here?

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve read a story about someone just picking up a bag, grabbing their ID, and heading to an airport because they’re ready for an adventure, and who cares if they planned ahead and thought, me next, please?

Wonder why I’m bringing this up?

I’ll let you know in a week or so how it went. When this post goes live, husband and I will be in an airplane.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

I’m on track, and had a couple of breakthroughs with the minor characters this week. One of the things about having a teen character in a queer YA these days is it’s possible for them to begin the story already out, and it’s possible for them to have a group of out queer friends, and a support network in their school.

That’s the route I’ve taken with Exit Plans, and I’m happy about that.

So the cast of characters around Cole include two queer teen girls (one bi, one lesbian), a teen genderqueer, a gay teen boy, Cole (my narrator and also a gay teen boy), and Cole’s best friend, who is ace. I’m still waffling over whether he’s ace/aro, or ace, and I’ve been reading like mad about the experiences ace folk have in common (or unique stories of ace individuals), as well as a tonne of “I hate it when non-Ace people do this,” posts, and I’ve already lined up a beta reader, and I’ve got my ace friends in the loop and…and…and…

Well, you get it. Doesn’t make me less nervous, but I want these characters—even if they’re “just” supporting characters—to be solid.

After all, it pisses me off when queer guys are written inauthentically, so the last thing I want to do is punch down.


Of Echoes Born / Short Pieces

 

Had another idea for another short fiction piece, which is good. I may try writing on the plane (we’ll see—often that makes me feel woogy and ill), but depending on how many hours on a plane this is, I’m likely to go bonkers if I don’t write, so.


Open Calls for Submission

On Writing Wednesday I try to include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better.

Totals: I have stalled out a bit this month. While in January I did well: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February I’m still only at: 1 submission (1 new).

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Clarkesworld – Currently open for art, non-fiction, and short story submissions.
  • Cast of Wonders – Young adult short fiction market, open to story submissions up to 6,000 words.
  • MM Superpowers anthology – This isn’t the only thing open at Totally Bound (you can click through for the full list), but this is the one I’m eyeing; deadline February 28th, 2017; 10k-15k word count limit, with erotic content.
  • Wet Summer Nights – White collar/blue collar, cross-town, wrong side of the tracks lovers theme; Mischief Corner Books; 10k-18k word count; deadline March 31st, 2017.
  • A Fool For You -Tales of Tricksters; Less than Three Press; 10k-20k word count; deadline March 31st, 2017.
  • Alice Unbound – Think Alice in Wonderland, only speculative and may embrace fabulist, weird, myth, SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror, etc. Exile Editions; Submission window: February 1st – May 31st, 2017; 2k – 5k word count limit; Canadians and ex-pat Canadians only.

“You Should Totally Hold Hands.”

Before I start, take a peek at this ad:

That ad was put together by a bank, ANZ, and you know, I get that it was intended to be supportive. I really, really do.

That said: fuck right off.

Let’s look at the slogan.

“When you feel like letting go, #holdtight.”

Are you shitting me?

Feel like? This isn’t “You know, today I feel like Earl Grey instead of Chamomile.” This is “Okay, those three people there are bigger than me, and before they see me holding hands with my husband, I’m going to let go.”

See the difference?

So, dear ad, I’m doing to disagree. Don’t hold tight in the face of a situation that makes you feel off. Instead, be safe. Trust your instincts.

Well meaning things like this are said to me all the time. “You should be able to hold your husband’s hand. You should be able to kiss him in public. It shouldn’t matter. It’s no big deal.”

In the same order, “Yep, I should. Yep, I should. Unfortunately, it does. And yes, it is.”

Crap like this gets me so freaking mad. Yes, when I’m somewhere safe, when I have backup or know I’m in the clear, I’ll go for that PDA. I do think it matters. Totally. But if a queer person feels off about holding hands somewhere, they’re the best judge.

Don’t tell them otherwise. Especially veiled in some sort of supportive “be courageous” crap.

Like I said, I’m sure the ad makers here intended this to be supportive. But the literal message here is “take the risk.” And for crying out loud, no. Don’t tell queer folk they have to risk it. We already fucking risk it enough. Trust me. If allies feel bad we don’t hold hands in public? That’s work for them. Not us.

Allies want us to feel safe? Go make it safer. Back us up. Until then, fuck off with your words of support and advice hinging on us risking it ourselves for you to feel better.

“Holding hands for some people is difficult,” the description says.

No.

It’s not difficult for us. It’s fucking dangerous.

Sunday Shorts – “The Loft,” by Elizabeth Lister

coverSunday Shorts has kind of fallen by the wayside a bit this year—mea culpa—but I’m going to play some catch-up. I’ve been reading short fiction and novellas with a full on clip this year, but the reviewing part?

Well, as I said: mea culpa.

I try to be the guy who owns up when I fall behind (and having a public blog to hold myself accountable to said goals is one of the ways I do manage to say on track). Between the horrendously endless grey-white of winter and my own mood, I went south, dove into reading, and haven’t been writing much at all, let alone reviews.

So, to be clear: I fell behind, this has nothing to do with the quality of the books I’ve been reading, and I totally need to own my mistake in falling behind.

And speaking of having the guts to take ownership of a mistake, let’s revisit the guys from Elizabeth Lister’s James Lucas trilogy


Revisiting the trio from the James Lucas Trilogy was like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes (okay, maybe more like a comfortable leather harness), I slipped right into this novella.

When a former acquaintance of James’ becomes involved with a shady character and James’ efforts to help him backfire, Tate decides it is up to him to save the day even if it means putting himself in danger.

So Tate makes a couple of mistakes in this short novella, and from there the whole narrative spins forward. One: he allows himself a moment of jealousy when he sees a former client of James’ Loft days speaking with James with an obviously close confidence. That threatens Tate in a way his already polyamorous relationship doesn’t, and it’s from there the stage is set for his ever-increasing well-meaning but bad choices.

When Tate learns James’ old friend is in a troubling and potentially dangerous relationship, he dives into the situation without a lot of forethought, and of course ends up in danger himself.

What Lister does with these three characters is magic on a couple of levels. On the one hand, Lister does her research. Be it consent, contracts, kink of any kind (and there are some rarely seen kinks in this piece—sounding, anyone?), I have never found even a shred of fault in the depiction, which always walks the perfect example of “safe and sane.”

Two, the intersection of these three characters with very different points of view balances the queer mentality really, really well. These men live and breathe and exist in very different circles (I love that Lister writes a character who is involved in the church as well as a character who wants nothing to do with religion), have different ages and life experiences, and have formed a unit that’s strong without making the parts feel weaker alone.


 

In between making school lunches, driving her children to activities and snuggling in front of the TV with her handsome husband, Elizabeth writes very graphic erotica about gay men in love.

Her three full-length novels comprising The James Lucas Trilogy – Beyond the Edge, The Cross and the Trinity, and A Numinous Light – are available to purchase in print and ebook. This series follows the lives of three men drawn together by a mutual enjoyment of BDSM play and an undeniable attraction to each other. Beyond the Edge received an Honorable Mention in the Pauline Réage Novel Award category of the NLA-International Awards, which recognize excellence in writing and publishing about Leather, SM, bondage and fetishes.

Elizabeth is currently working on a series of erotic short stories called The Loft Series featuring the characters from The James Lucas Trilogy. These stories will fill in some details about the year following the events in The Cross and the Trinity, when Tate, Sebastian and James figure out how to live successfully as a cohabiting and committed poly-amorous unit, and let the reader be a fly-on-the-wall for more of their sexual journey together in James’ infamous loft playroom.

Elizabeth has also published two novellas, Exposure and The Crush, available in ebook format only.  She has also written two very sexy short stories, Apartment 1209 and The Beach House, available to read for FREE.

Writing Wednesday – Better Writing Through Nitrous

 

My face is more-or-less fixed now, so that’s a good thing. And I have a few new experiences I can maybe use in fiction some day. Did you want a blow-by-blow of what it feels like to have a pin nudged back into place in your face and an infection drained around it while you’re high on nitrous and under the influence of six jabs of local?

No?

Maybe not then.

Suffice it to say, Monday I was pretty much wrecked, and Tuesday wasn’t much better. I’ll be back on track again soon.

In all seriousness, though, I did have some great ideas while I was buzzing. That’s not a suggestion people should buzz to get ideas, but rather if you’re having surgery and you’re buzzing, maybe bring a pencil and some paper.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

Got nowhere this week. See above, re: face fixing.


Of Echoes Born / Short Pieces

 

I scribbled more for “Pentimento” this week (especially while under the influence of nitrous, so we’ll see how quality that turns out to be), and I have also almost finished putting in the other reprints into the file (I wasn’t good at keeping files way-back-when, and some of the stories I submitted earlier in my career I had to retype from the actual book).

Almost done that.


Open Calls for Submission

Lastly, Writing Wednesday updates include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better.

Totals: January: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; February: 1 submission (1 new).

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Clarkesworld – Currently open for art, non-fiction, and short story submissions.
  • Cast of Wonders – Young adult short fiction market, open to story submissions up to 6,000 words.
  • MM Superpowers anthology – This isn’t the only thing open at Totally Bound (you can click through for the full list), but this is the one I’m eyeing; deadline February 28th, 2017; 10k-15k word count limit, with erotic content.
  • Wet Summer Nights – White collar/blue collar, cross-town, wrong side of the tracks lovers theme; Mischief Corner Books; 10k-18k word count; deadline March 31st, 2017.
  • Alice Unbound – Think Alice in Wonderland, only speculative and may embrace fabulist, weird, myth, SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror, etc. Exile Editions; Submission window: February 1st – May 31st, 2017; 2k – 5k word count limit; Canadians and ex-pat Canadians only.