Archive for November, 2013

Surgery, Broken Bones, Friendship, Romance, and All the Other Things That Make a Book

BY  ALI VALI

Friendship is something my partner and I have not only shared for twenty-nine years, but something we cherish. We’ve never taken it for granted, especially after August 16th of this year. Emergency surgery is just that—something unplanned and urgent. The complications that come after are, in a word, hell.

 

C’s had it rough since August, but what a blessing it’s been to have not only each other, but the kind of friends who are gifts from God. The calls, cards, gifts, and prayers are what pulled us through without out too much mental scarring. To all of you who took time to send healing thoughts and prayers, you have our deepest appreciation. We both are truly blessed and humbled you cared so much.

 

When life throws you a multitude of curve balls, all of them aimed at your head, the knowledge you are cared for truly does bring solace. The churning in your gut caused by the realization you have absolutely no control over so many moments in your life is somehow more tolerable because you have friends who are willing to hold your hand through it all.

 

Our recent long hospital stay gave me the opportunity to return a lot of emails, and a lot of folks asked me if there’s any part of C or myself in the books I write, and if so, what. The one thing I try my best to convey, no matter the book, is the joy a loving relationship can bring to your life. It’s one of the reasons I suck at writing erotica. Radclyffe always tells me there’s too much story along with the sex, but come to think of it, Radclyffe always tells me there’s too much story no matter what. I have a little trouble keeping to those word counts, so thank you to my awesome editor Shelley Thrasher, who has no trouble trimming all that excess. Don’t let that Southern laid-back demeanor fool you; the woman is a slasher in every sense of the word.

 

So while C and I have been together almost thirty years, Kendal Richoux is over three thousand years old, and the two people she’s trusted as much as her father have been with her all those years. Imagine having someone in your life for an eternity like that and the depth of the friendship you’d share with them because of it.

 

The storyline and concepts of the Forces series,Battle of Forces 300 DPI though, different from the Devil books, deal with the same themes of family, loyalty to others, friendships, and in some cases, disloyalty to others. Both series are fun to write for different reasons, but when as a writer you can suspend a little reality that must be present in other books, it brings with it a new sense of imagination. Can you imagine a vampire hunting through the Devil series? Cain at times is bloody enough, but I’d guess she’d have ordered a boatload of wooden stakes from Home Depot by now, as well as hired Kendal for Swordplay 101.

 

Both series take place mostly in New Orleans, but I believe the city brings something to each story. For us, there’s no place like New Orleans—the food, carefree lifestyle, and the people have the history of this place in their DNA. And it doesn’t matter if you weren’t born here; I certainly wasn’t, but what a place to grow up. If you did grow up here and don’t have a story about sneaking into a bar when you were underage, then your childhood wasn’t a complete success. All you need to know is after a few beers, your first tray of crawfish or crab cakes, followed by some beignets, you’re a native.

 

This was the perfect place for someone three thousand years old who’s lived all over the world. Kendal Richoux lost a love in New Orleans and found it again a few hundred years later. Kendal feels at home in New Orleans because, like her, the city had so many facets and personalities.

 

This series appealed to me because of the snippets of history Kendal’s lived through. As a reader I love historical novels (if only KI Thompson would gift us with another one of those), but I can’t settle on one time period to actually write one. With a character who’s witnessed so much I didn’t have to, and different aspects of Kendal’s past were included.

 

Now you’d think after spending twenty-nine years with someone, the only new and exciting things left are the fantasies of how to kill that person and get away with it, but that’s not the case at all. Granted, I did scar C with a pressure washer, but aside from that, I truly enjoy romancing her. See. These blogs teach you something. No one loves a mob movie more than me, which I guess is why no one guessed the two truths and a lie on the panel I served on in Ptown. The audience wasn’t buying that Too Cute is one of my favorite television shows, but it is. So while you might think I spend most of my time thinking of new and inventive ways to kill people, I’m also pretty good at picking out flowers.

 

In honor of the woman I love, there’s also romance woven into this story as well, and it was nice giving someone like Kendal, whose past is so rich and full, a new beginning. Like I said, life is so much easier when you have someone who cares about you, and that only gets better when you find that someone who can make you laugh even when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do. No matter what’s going on, C can do that because she knows me better than any other living soul.

 

To me, the action is important to every story, but the romance is the center of it all. What I’ve tried to bring out in every book is that a character, no matter how strong, needs someone who allows them to let their load down if only for a little while. The journey to that point is what gives every book its heart.

 

That brings us back to friendship and where it takes us next in the Forces series. If I was one for hints, which I’m not, but if I was, I’d tell you the answer is found in a couple of places in this second book. Kendal and Piper’s, as well as Morgaine and Lenore’s story will go on. There are babies on the way and…wait, I forgot I’m not much for hints.

 

The other story that will continue is the adventures as well as romance C and I are always involved in. No surgeries, broken bones, and other such calamities will slow us down. We’ll, as always, relish the high points and not worry about the trials because of the aforementioned great friends who’ll see us through. So thanks again for the good energy you shot our way. We return it a thousand fold.

 

Thanks too for reading the books and the great notes you send. Events like Women’s Week in Ptown are always fun because I get to chat with so many readers about the books and life in general. You just never know when one of those conversations sparks an idea for the next storyline. Thanks for that too!

 

If you guess the theme of the third Forces book I’ll be happy to send you an autographed copy of the second one. The first three people who send me the correct answer to terrali20@yahoo.com get a book.

Diving the Thistlegorm

 

BY JUSTINE SARACEN

Lucky are those who, late in life, experience a revelation. I don’t mean the religious kind (though those might be fun, too) but the in-your-face real-world kind.

Though few of us see angels or madonnas on our toast, we can still discover and feel transported by a new art, culture, landscape, country or adventure. Maybe hearing opera for the first time, or standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, or stepping out into Venice/ Machu Pichu/ Karnak/location of your choice. It counts as a revelation, when the experience stuns you and leaves you both humbler and richer.

For me, that happened last year when I leapt with full scuba gear into the warm, clear, astonishingly beautiful waters of the Red Sea. Afterward, I waxed lyrical to all who would listen, about the pure physical joy, the expansion of the horizontal land-perspective to the spherical diver’s experience. Underwater, I had no place to stand, and hovered between an ‘above’ and a ‘below,’ bombarded by stimuli from 360 degrees-squared. My brain, like my lungs, had evolved away from that, and learning it all again was dizzying.

Movement itself was a thrill. After a lifetime of setting one foot down in front of the other, I discovered the wonderful fluid mobility of a marine mammal, changing direction, rolling, and somersaulting, with a flick of the fin or the hip. Brightly colored fish swarmed around me, as if to say, “what took you so long?” It was an epiphany.

And what does a compulsively wordy-nerdy person do after an experience like that?

She turns it into a novel, of course.

Thus, in the months following, I wrote Beloved GomorrahBeloved Gomorrah 300 DPI, taking its setting and its cast of characters from that first trip to Egypt. Of course it had a plot too, one involving the biblical Gomorrah of its title. You wouldn’t think you could smush a diving-adventure-romance-thriller together with a biblical myth, but in fact, they go together rather well. And it was certainly a pleasure to deconstruct the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah as the objects of God’s wrath, and turn them into a paradise.

In any case, after the novel had gone to print, I made a second trip to the Red Sea, this time near Sharm el Sheikh. The second dive brought no revelation, but it did offer the next best ‘cool new’ thing: a dive down to a major shipwreck.

The SS Thistlegorm was an enormous WWII British Merchant ship that set sail from Glasgow destined for Alexandria, Egypt carrying war material. (The route through the Mediterranean was blocked by the Germans at Gibraltar.) German aircraft sank her on 6 October 1941 near the tip of the Sinai peninsula. Discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the 1950s, the wreck has become one of the most spectacular dives of the Red Sea.

I admit, I was nervous. The wreck lies at the limit of my diving credentials (and experience), and the currents are strong, so I wasn’t sure how one even got down there without being swept away. When the dive captain told us the descent was by guide rope tied to the superstructure, it seemed a bit less threatening, so I suited up and leapt in.

Bang! The explosion, within inches of my ear, was deafening, and the sudden froth of white water all around me was frightening. “Don’t go down!” someone shouted at me, and invisible hands pushed me back toward the dive platform where I clutched at the boat ladder. Though I could see nothing, I could feel someone unscrew and detach my air cylinder from my back. The dive master shouted that the O ring on my air tank had burst causing the air to erupt from the valve behind my head (!) rather than stream through my mouthpiece. Fortunately, it had happened at the surface, so I could continue to breathe air from…the air.

While I hung on, slightly shaken, he attached a second tank and assured me that everything would be okay now. I didn’t believe a word of it, but I was already in the water, and unwilling to wimp out, so I followed him meekly, grappling my way down the line to the wreck.

1thistlg_descent3

When we reached the deck, the dive master led us slowly around the exterior. Since my air supply seemed fine, I began to enjoy the dive. The wreck site was vast, and we were like tiny sea birds swooping along the hull. To my surprise, I spotted a locomotive that had apparently slid from the deck onto the sea bed as the ship sank. A locomotive on the floor of the Red Sea! Just like in the novel I had recently finished. How cool was that! But I saw no other parallels. No clay tablets, no golden artifacts, no city of sculpture, no Gomorrah to love.

The wreck had its own story to tell, of course, and it was a powerful one, as all catastrophes are. I circled the broken vessel awestruck, imagining the thunder of bombardment, the shrieking of torn steel, the cries of the lost seamen.

We explored until our air tanks reached reserve and it was time to ascend. When I surfaced, I was frankly rather pleased with myself. Now I could join the elite who had ‘dived the Thistlegorm.’

But no.

Back on board, the veterans explained it didn’t count if you just paddled around the outside hull. To qualify for the I dived the Thistlegorm teeshirt, you had to explore the cargo holds. The plan was to go inside, they said. It would be fun, they said.

Inside. A frightening claustrophobic word for the new diver. It means you are in a confined space and in the event of an emergency (read NO AIR), you cannot simply rise to the surface. You have to first escape. Another terrible word.

Of course you learn the hand signal for ‘no air’, and your dive partner (or anyone) knows to rush to your side and share her air. That’s Diving 101. But when you’re swimming single file by torch light in a dark ship’s corridor, a hand signal is not easy to see and takes even longer to respond to. You have to twist backwards trying to catch the attention of the diver behind you and then wait until she wiggles up alongside of you and offers her auxiliary mouthpiece. Can you hold your breath for say, a minute, without panicking?

I told the dive master I wouldn’t go. The rest of the diving team looked at me aghast and with a touch of pity.

“Don’t worry,” the dive master said. “You can dive right behind me. I’ll keep an eye on you. It’ll be fine.” He slapped me on the back.

Frankly, I did not see how being behind him gave me any survival advantage, but the other divers (whose O rings had not exploded, mind you) shamed me into agreeing. Someone photographed us both, just before he pried my reluctant fingers from the rope and led me back down.

2thistleg_w-divemaster

Since I am writing this blog, I obviously did not die a terrifying death trapped under water, but we did have a lighting problem. One of the divers had a dead torch, and the dive master lent her his, so that meant my torch, in second position, would be the guiding light of the dive. Oh, joy. But for that, I got another photo just before we entered the hold. Obviously, someone was keeping a record. Be good for the post mortem inquest, I thought. The photo conceals my anxious expression.

3thistleg_inhold2

But for all my cringing and whining, the ‘inside’ dive went beautifully. We first wormed our way through the upper hold, past thousands of Wellington boots, Bren guns, motorcycles, rifle crates, and unexploded munitions. I took pains not to touch anything, not even with a fin-tip. Ya never know, right?

Then, like it or not, the dive master signaled we were to enter the lower hold. Even darker. Even deeper. Even harder to escape. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. While I stayed within fin-grabbing distance of the dive master, I relaxed enough to focus on the amazing cargo of aircraft wings and engines, of armored vehicles, trucks, radio equipment and the coal tender to the locomotive. All was encrusted with sea life, and slowly rusting away.

The experience was thrilling, but not a revelation. Perhaps it was merely the joy of overcoming personal fears. I surfaced with a quiet sense of pride for I had been in the belly of the Thistlegorm. Now I qualified for the tee shirt.

And best of all, I had a fabulous idea for the next novel.

4thistl_after

 

5thistl_teeshirt

Voluptuous Catholic Paramours

BY HEATHER BLACKMORE

I love learning new words. Nearly every word I know I learned in some unremarkable, unmemorable fashion. There have been some standouts, however. I thought I’d share a few.

 

A popular teacher of mine in high school was preparing us for an upcoming vocabulary test. When he got to the word “voluptuous,” he blushed and stammered, clearly thinking of it in a particularly private manner. He gestured by loosely cupping his palms in front of his chest, as if he meant, but couldn’t say, “Characterized by large breasts.” In response, as if playing charades, one of my classmates called out, “Big hands!” It stuck. Since then, I know what folks think when they see a voluptuous woman: look at those hands.

 

In my early twenties, I fell in love for the first time. Moored by that committed relationship, I came out to my parents. My mother sent me a letter in response. In it, she said something like, “You are our daughter. You will always be welcome here. Your paramours will not.”

 

Okay, maybe coming out hadn’t gone over super well.

 

But I learned a new word. Paramour. It made me sound intriguing and dangerous, like, wow, little old me has an illicit lover! How Anna Karenina of me! And by at least one definition, my mother’s meaning was entirely accurate. My girlfriend and I weren’t married, and we were living together. Still, we weren’t being adulterous, and Mom had previously welcomed most of my boyfriends, so this edict was new. Safe to say that for my Catholic mom, I was not living the dream. Thus began a long road ahead, one filled with hurt and healing. And somehow, always: love. (I’ll be blogging separately about this.)

 

Fast forward two decades.

 

My 80+ year-old, politically conservative father has preordered my first novel, Like Jazz.Like Jazz 300 DPI I’m certain he’d have ordered my book even if he hadn’t needed something to get him over the free-super-saver-shipping threshold. He’s supporting my writing, and I’m thrilled. At the same time, I’m a little uncomfortable.

 

I’ve hinted to him several times about the topic of Like Jazz. “You do realize, Dad, that this is a romance, right? Where the main characters—two women, remember—you know…hug? And sometimes…kiss? And, um…you know, that sort of thing?”

 

“I like to think I have very catholic tastes,” he said.

 

I grew up Catholic. Most of my extended family is Catholic. They’re a fairly easygoing group. They don’t walk around quoting Scripture—which isn’t to say that Jesus Christ doesn’t come up a lot, particularly when the Vikings are losing. But when the conversation relates to your nuclear family, trust me, it’s different. “I know, Dad. That’s the thing. Probably not up your alley.”

 

“You do know what catholic means, don’t you?” he asked.

 

“Well, I know what I think Catholic means, and based on that, this isn’t necessarily the book for you.”

 

“Catholic means having wide-ranging tastes. Being broad-minded.”

 

Are you freaking kidding me? Well, if any being has a sense of humor, it’s God. “It does? Huh.” The capital C version I grew up with meant something vastly different from this lower case c. I immediately grabbed my dictionary. Oh my God. Dad’s definition was the first entry. Mine was last. “You’re right, Dad.”

 

Like I said, I love learning new words. Or new takes on old ones.

 

So…for all good catholic folk everywhere, I offer you Like Jazz. Enjoy!

Heather Blackmore’s debut novel, Like Jazz, will be available

from the Bold Strokes Bookstore on December 1, 2013.

Calling all gay horror whores!

BY DANIEL W. KELLY

As a gay guy who has been obsessed with horror since I was a little kid, I never searched for any correlation between the genre and the orientation. I just thought horror fans were horror fans. But because horror over the decades has been so heterosexual male-oriented, when I began writing my own horror fiction, I decided it made sense to do it from the all-male perspective while modeling it after the tried and true traits of the genre: scares and sex.

My first erotic horror collection Closet Monsters included five erotic horror stories and the novella Zombied Out, which had some sexual situations but was not erotica. I used the same formula with my second book, Horny Devils. This time, the novella, entitled Scream, Queen, was a gay slasher. It was easy to sex it up because the slasher genre lends itself to “gratuitous” sex. That was when I realized I would never write a sex-less horror novel. For me, just like humor, injections of sex into horror help to awaken the senses and totally screw with your mental state. It’s part of the ride: I’m scared. Now I’m horny. I just peed a little from laughing. I almost shit my pants from fear.

Sex in my writing is not necessarily always an “integral part of the plot.” Just like in real life (and straight horror), when the opportunity seems right, in it goes. If a given moment guarantees the characters would be having sex, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to show it. But I don’t consider my writing erotica. It’s not written solely to get readers off, so it’s not like you’re reading a sex story labeled “erotic horror” simply because the guys are having sex on Halloween night. These are actual horror stories, albeit loaded with explicit sex.

I just assumed that it was a logical fusion for gay horror fans. Imagine my surprise when some reviews expressed appreciation for the…um…meat of my stories but then made comments about the sex being a distraction. As someone who grew up at a time when sex was mandatory in horror, I’m going to guess these readers weren’t properly raised on sex and violence.

I’ve even seen the equating of the sex in my horror stories to “sexual assault.” That’s far from the same thing as doing something sexual with a man because you want to be forced into doing it with him, as is usually the case in my stories. Sexual situations involving an unwilling participant are a complete turn off for me—I’ve read that kind of erotic fiction with no enjoyment and watched it go on to win literary awards. Which means I won’t be winning any awards any time soon, because you won’t often find a Deliverance moment in my writing. And when you do, the point is absolutely not to arouse; it is to horrify. I can’t be responsible for where the mind wants to go. But isn’t it possible that what might be making readers uncomfortable is that they are left questioning whether or not a scene is supposed to be turning them on?

Perhaps it’s easier for a gay reader to assume such scenes in my books are intended to be sexual because, unlike a heterosexual male, who is most likely repulsed by the idea of butt fucking (as depicted in Deliverance), gay men generally expect it to be a positive experience. Look at it from the reverse perspective. A gay man watching I Spit on Your Grave is not likely to see the rape scene as sexual at all, but the protective anonymity of internet message boards shows time and again that there are heterosexual men who do find it stimulating. Does that mean they are sick individuals, or does it mean that horror is succeeding in making them uncomfortable about the darkness within themselves? Maybe that’s why the sex in my books unnerves gay readers; it makes them contemplate what they never had to when female T&A was being splashed needlessly across the screen through twelve Jason movies.

Either way, whether sex is in place to arouse or to disturb, of all people to express distaste in its presence, I never imagined it would be gay men. Could it be true? Straight male horror fans are more in touch with their sexual selves than gay horror fans? Was I going about writing gay horror all wrong?

Thankfully, for every comment about the supposed unnecessary sex, there is appreciation of it. It was nice to have someone tell me that my story “Woof!” proved to be the first time werewolves made him hot. I often get nods for writing horror stories that feature piggish, hairy, burly bears instead of vanilla, smooth, pretty boys. Not all gay men want sex in their horror, but there are definitely those who aren’t complaining. Still, it’s hard to find the community of gay sex and horror lovers. General horror message boards aren’t bringing them out of the closet. I began to wonder just how niche the market was.

Then a friend turned me on to a Greenwich Village bear bar called Rockbar NYC, where a couple of horror-loving gay guys hold a horror trivia night every month. Before I know it, I’m co-hosting the trivia night and doing a reading/signing of my books. I had a blast. Here was a bar full of gay men who could answer the question: How many people did Cujo kill? That night, my books were bought and given away as prizes. But did that mean gay horror lovers would actually like them? I didn’t know.

With the release of CombustionCombustion 300 DPI, I returned to Rockbar NYC and something wonderful happened. What was clearly a regular crowd at horror trivia night remembered me as much as I remembered them. And they had actually delved into my books. I witnessed one friend tell a couple that when he read my novella Zombied Out, he pictured them as the bear couple in the book. Another reader told me that whenever anyone peruses his bookshelves, their eyes are drawn immediately to my books.

Yet another horror fan told me that he won my book in the trivia contest the first time I was there, loved it, and read it out loud to his adora-bear hubby. He specifically referenced my story “Monstrosity” about a man suffering from a case of “gargantuanism.” He said the ending was horrific—but readily admitted that he also thought it was so hot he took care of business to it more than once. Good news for him. That huge man will be making a comeback in the novels yet to come in the series that begins with Combustion and now continues with my new book, No Place for Little OnesNo Place for Little Ones 300 DPI.

And there it was. Evidence that my kind of gay erotic horror fan is out there. I’d been in contact with one occasionally over the Internet. But to be in a bar full of them was not only an honor…it was hot as hell.

And things have just gotten better since then. I was inspired to create the Facebook page Boys, Bears & Scares, dedicated to horror from a gay male POV: movies, books, art, graphic novels, gay ghouls, horror hunks, and more. Doing so has connected me to gay horror lovers, from men who create it to fans who devour it. It’s an exhaustive and ever-growing list of what’s out there in both gay and mainstream horror.

Gay horror is hard to find. It is often targeted at the “erotica” market rather than the horror market, which does it a great disservice. There’s a good chance when an erotica reader sees a hot guy on the cover of a gay horror book, he’s in for something he didn’t bargain for: gratuitous horror along with the sex. When the cover also successfully captures the horror elements, the erotica reader may be repelled by the horror, but the horror fan—the true market for the genre—will be intrigued. And unless he’s one of those horror readers who find that sex gets in the way of the story and wasn’t tipped off about its inclusion in the book by the half-naked guy on the cover, he’ll be right at home with every gory gay, horny homo detail.

 


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 620 other followers


%d bloggers like this: