Tag Archives: #newrelease

October Surprise: Inspiration

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: Inspiration

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. So I had politics on the brain. The initial plot-bunny that hopped through my head was about a gay politician who covered up a scandal by claiming the sex worker in those dirty pictures was actually his fiancé.

And that was all I had.

In my first attempts to carve out a story, I thought maybe the politician was the sort of rake who’d make Bill Clinton blush while the younger man was a college student who could barely speak in public. Or maybe he was a secret war vet? Or maybe a born-again Christian… that wasn’t working. Then I thought, maybe the politician was super corrupt and the young fellow was the victims of a sex trafficking thing and… that fell apart very quickly.

With the deadline for the submission getting closer and no idea who I should be writing about, I took drastic measures.

I made a playlist.

I love Spotify because it lets me like any damn song I want and keeps that song in a positively enormous list for me. When I get stuck on a character or a conflict in a Romance book, I shuffle it and let the first three songs dictate where I go from there.

The first song I came to was Johnny Cash’s cover of Eagles, Desperado. It’s an absolutely legendary song, made even more heart-breaking by Cash’s lonesome vocals. It was the perfect starting point for the December in my story. A cowboy type, trying to save his city. Thinking he had to do it all alone without letting anyone see his weaknesses. Whim Deluth became a paragon of his community, obsessed with appearances and haunted by his own virtues.

The second song was so wildly different I nearly skipped over it on instinct. be steadwell’s “What I Want,” is a glorious ode to lesbian seduction (like most of her songs). Lines like “she is a reoccurring dream/ and she came back just like I knew she would” and “I don’t wanna hear you scream/I wanna hear you whisper “Please don’t stop” coupled by the raw sensuality of the song are the reason I’m a huge fan of be steadwell. The May of my story was not going to be a wilting flower, or a soft, inexperienced victim. With that one song, Sunshine became a young, gender-fluid man who knew who he was, who he wanted, and how to get his way. Is it any wonder, the young man became the more forceful of the two?

The final piece to the puzzle came with another less known artist, Rebecca Angel, and her song “Again.” It’s a deceptively simple song. Here are the lyrics without repetition.

Touch me again
like you did before.
My skin cries out
with the memory of you.

I was tempted to include the repetition and the stresses. Half the magic of the song comes from the singer’s pleading, playful, forlorn longing. There’s a lovely spareness and mystery to those few words and the light touch of the instrumentation. It evokes a rich history between these two lovers, hints at something deeply broken, and offers hope that this time will be different, better, and more satisfying.

Three songs that I doubt have ever been put near each other before, but they came together, and suddenly, I had a story to write.

October Surprise: A Bit Odd

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: a little bit odd

October Surprise: not exactly the story I thought I would be writing

I don’t usually write contemporary realism stories. My mind tends to run more towards the thriller and speculative sides of the romance genre.

I don’t usually write May/December romances. The power dynamic of a much older partner and a young person ‘groomed’ for the role always freaked me out when I was a teenager, and I never got over that.

And I never thought I would be asked to write a Forced Marriage between two men. I’m a little like Whim, and my old-fashioned ass is still tickled pink and a bit unused to the fact that gay marriage is legal in the U.S.

But one of the fun things about anthology calls is that challenge to get outside yourself and write something specific to a theme.

Like every other person on the planet, 2020 was a tough year for me. I’d left my apartment in NYC to teach abroad in Shanghai, China, just as the pandemic shut everything down. Abruptly, I was thrown out of my comfortable life with an enriching career and the luxury of my own home and pushed back into life as a cashier, living with my in-laws. I spent most of 2020 joking that quarantine was a writer’s dream, but in truth, I was worn out by fear. Fear of the pandemic, fear of my nation’s negligence, fear of the racial strife that seemed just as dangerous to my family as the disease.

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. I was so wound up in these thoughts that a politician forced to marry to quiet down a scandal was the only story I could dream up. Thinking about a gay, black, uber-responsible Democrat running for governor was therapeutic for me.

Partly because I wished for a real-life Whim so much, I couldn’t bring myself to make him the sort of fella who would coerce his lover into a marriage. So, it ended up being Sunshine, the younger man, who was applying the pressure. It’s a little bit odd, so is Sunshine, so I wrote the story the way I needed to and hoped for the best (more on this in another post).

By the time I submitted it, my nerves were back. I knew I was walking the line of the most important part of the theme, and kicking myself for being cavalier with the rules, with spending months on this story with such an obvious flaw at the very heart.

I fully expected a rejection.

So when Evernight’s email came back, I was devastated but not surprised. It read: “Thank you for your submission. The story doesn’t fit the anthology requirements (almost opposite with the younger man being the forceful party)”

And then I stopped reading and wallowed for a while.

It wasn’t until a day later when I received a follow-up email asking for my response, that I went back and finished reading the initial email.

“… but the acquiring editor really enjoyed your story and is willing to bend in this specific case.”

So moral of the story, kids, finish reading your emails.

I hope you enjoy “October Surprise” even if it’s a little bit odd.

October Surprise

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

Selection from “October Surprise”

A blackmail letter sneaks onto my desk in early spring. I’m on a call with a local school board member who needs to be reminded he’s essential, and I open my mail with indifference until the handwritten lettering peeks through. Chisel-tip marker, quite beautiful, if I’m honest. I look at the envelope again—good forgery of City Hall’s seal.

The message reads: I know your secret. When we meet, you’ll give me what I want. No questions asked.

The fellow from the school board pauses, so I mirror enough of what he’s said to make him continue on.

There’s a tiny part of me that’s pleased to receive a blackmail letter as the mayor of a mid-sized city. Death threats, I’d grown accustomed to during quarantine two years ago. But to be blackmailed … that’s proper validation.

The greater part of me is confused. Do I have a secret worthy of extortion? I’ve spoken openly, though not frequently, about my sexuality. I’m not exactly proud of my time in the Army, but there’s nothing to publicly shame me. As far as I know, I’ve never been successfully bribed. Maybe something from before. Before the military. Before my political ambitions.

Sunshine will know which of our old friends sent this.

I return the letter to its envelope, tuck it into my jacket pocket, and focus on my phone call.

After I’ve soothed the school board official, I sit in the silence. City Hall is a tomb after hours, a pristine echoing place, especially my office. The clean empty walls are cool and crisp as snow.

The last time I talked to Sunshine—not so much talking as moaning and panting, if I’m honest—I hadn’t returned his calls. He knew I wouldn’t. I’m the mayor of a mid-sized city, aiming to be governor, and he was … is … a strange kid. Feral, lawless, but not in a mean way. Boy’s heart is pure gold, just … unpredictable. He’s magic to kiss, heaven to hold, and impossible to keep. For me, anyway. Someone with less ambition and a softer heart might tame him. But he’s too fragile for my strength, too odd for my world.

Still, he answers the phone when I call. As usual, he doesn’t speak first.

“Sunshine, it’s me.”

“Who?”

“William Duluth.”

“Naw, it ain’t.”

I smile to spite myself. “It’s Whim, then.”

“Shame on you, Whim, forgetting yourself.”

Considering the blackmail letter filling my pocket, is there shame in forgetting what deserves to be forgotten? “I’m glad you remember me. How’ve you been, son?”

Sunshine bucks against the small talk. “What color’s the sky where you are?”

“Black.” Then I look out the window and consider the darkest part of this southern sunset. The springtime heat floats in a haze above the asphalt. Rows of city-approved palmettos and oaks sway in the glow of streetlights, and the skyscrapers hemming in the historic district reflect the peaceful twilight. The glowing dome of City Hall dims the stars. “Hazy gray.”

“I’ve been where the sky is purple in the night.”

“You outside the city?”

“Yup. Just ’cross the river. I like your town, Mayor Whim.”

His endorsement means more to me than a dozen donors. “Proud to hear that. Listen, I’d like to—”

“Where and when?”

“Sunshine, you don’t even know why I’m calling.”

“You sound lonely.” I bet he’s smiling to hide his own aloneness. “You know I’ll keep you out of trouble.”

In more ways than one. “Nothing has changed, son. If I’m honest—”

“I know it.” He has no patience for my defenses.

“Let’s—as a thought experiment—keep it professional. Set some boundaries.”

He laughs at my attempt. “Come and fuck me, Whim.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose, frustrated by his transparency and by the excited energy zipping through my spine. “I’d rather meet in public.”

“How’d that work last time?”

Last time. Winter. He’d worn a pink scarf from a street vendor, a long trench coat, and— I learned when he’d sauntered into my condo later—nothing else. The brightness of cheap cashmere on his mysterious dark skin … the platinum blond cloud of his shoulder-length afro … the memory burns my blood.

“It was a good effort.”

“We know how this goes, Whim. It’s like playing with matches in a pile of newspapers.”

Or a flamethrower in a weapons bunker.

“Come on over and start a fire.”