Archive for December, 2016

Words of Advice

Pathogen_300dpi

By Jessica L. Webb

There are so many times that advice is offered in life. When someone is embarking on something new, advice can be a grand gesture, often a wish and a hope of good things to come, more than practicality. Advice can be a rallying cry, friends who help shore up our resolve to adjust our aim, be brave, and try again. It can come from a place of regret, our attempts to help others avoid our own past misfortunes, words to steer a loved one around the rocky outcrops of life’s hurts.

Similarly, there are many reasons we choose to take or ignore advice. It may be a life preserver, words we cling to in an effort to keep afloat through storms we’re not certain we can weather. Advice can be unwanted, a knock to our sense of independence or adventure. It can seem like a barrier to our drive to discover and learn from our own mistakes. There are times when advice is just too close to the truth. Sometimes we simply aren’t ready.

In Pathogen, book two in the Dr. Kate Morrison Investigation series, Kate is struggling. Her life has changed dramatically since meeting Sgt. Andy Wyles. She would rather spend her time thinking about the incredible woman she has fallen in love with than the recent life-threatening incident with a deranged, self-proclaimed doctor. Or the fact that it brought up memories of her past and the heartache of losing her sister. When Kate is asked to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak in the wealthy and highly political town of Hidden Valley, British Columbia, Kate ignores Andy’s advice that maybe she should take a moment and think about everything she’s been through. Kate wants to focus on her patients and solve the mystery of a virus that isn’t acting like a virus. Kate wants to work with Andy and the RCMP as they investigate a potential bioterrorism threat. Kate does not want to stop and think about events and memories that hurt.

Like most people in life, there are times I seek out advice and times I am too stubborn or unwilling to accept advice, regardless of how badly I am in need of guidance. Here are just a few pieces of advice that stick with me.

My wife leads by example when it comes to advice, particularly in the area of failure. From Jen’s perspective, to fail is to discover the first attempt in learning. Failure is not something to avoid and it certainly isn’t something to be frightened of. For me, someone who wants to avoid that sinking feeling of failure at all cost, Jen’s continued lived example is a gentle reminder that failure is a first step and it can be as gleeful and magical as success.

A few years ago, my colleague David texted me some advice. He said “Tinker, Jess. Tinker.” Similar to Jen’s view on failure, David’s encouragement was to continue to find moments of exploration and adventure in our everyday lives. It’s a reminder that there is more than one way to solve a problem and sometimes the best solutions come from fiddling and tinkering and playing.

One of the most recent pieces of life advice I received was during this past summer’s Olympic Games. I love watching women’s soccer but I also find it stressful. My friend Katie told me, “Dude, always pre-pay the swear jar.” This advice makes sense to me. It’s a reminder that sometimes, despite our best plans and intentions, the wheels are going to come off and we’re going to struggle. In those moments we can grab a beer, find a friend, and curse to our heart’s content knowing the swear jar has been pre-paid. Tomorrow is always new day.

In Pathogen, there are a lot of reasons Kate is not ready for Andy’s advice. Like any of us, Kate is doing the best she can in a life filled with moments of joy and love as well as pain and heartache. Even as we want to echo Andy’s advice to Kate to simply stop and breathe and take some time to think, we know we cannot make others listen. There are times we cannot make ourselves listen. We carry on, we listen and learn, we watch out for each other, and we try again.

Meet Alexa Black

By Alexa Black

Steel and PromiseHi, I’m Alexa Black. Steel and Promise is my first novel, which began as a series of short stories that just never ended and eventually acquired a plot. I kept writing them as much out of surprise that I had more to say as anything else, and I’m very excited to offer you the characters, world, and relationships that grew out of that experiment.

 

I started writing the stories that became Steel and Promise because I’d just come out of my first relationship with a woman and discovered a great deal about myself. I’d always known that I like both men and women, but there’s a lot of stereotypes in the world that say if you haven’t been with women you don’t know for sure. Well, that relationship made me sure!

 

That relationship wasn’t great, and ended badly, but it taught me a lot about what I wanted and needed from relationships with both women and men. The bad place I was in was a blessing in disguise. I started writing about whatever came into my head, not worrying about whether I was writing something over the top or writing about something silly. That vow to myself to write what I wanted made it possible for me to finish the story.

 

I consciously wanted to mix an erotic story with a more conventional tale with a plot. There’s plenty of that around now if you look, but at the time I started the manuscript many years ago, it seemed like you had to pick whether you wanted something erotic or something more standard. I’m fine with heavy erotica, and I’m fine with stories that have no erotic content at all. I’ve always written both. But for this book, I consciously wanted something that someone who wanted either or both could pick up and enjoy.

 

I’ve also always liked characters that make the reader question things. The character of Teran Nivrai, a reclusive noblewoman with retractable claw implants instead of fingernails, sprang into my head years ago. The rumors about her sexuality and personality came right along with the initial idea. I think a lot of us in the LGBT community can relate to being questioned, or to questioning ourselves. To hearing rumors—or being the subject of them—and having to seek the truth inside us and find ways to reveal it to the world.

 

The character of Cailyn Derys, the courtesan who serves her and draws her out of her seclusion, took a while longer to create. But in the end, I wanted a character who answered rumors and assumptions not just with an open mind, but with kindness. I think a lot of “darker” stories can miss the power of kindness if the writer isn’t careful—and kindness is one of the most powerful forces in any of our lives.

 

Finally, as a bisexual woman, I wanted to create a story that focused on women loving women, but also challenged the stereotype that bisexual women are less serious about women than men. Not only did I learn that in my own life prior to writing Steel and Promise, but I wanted to show other women that they aren’t alone. And in doing so, I hope I’ve created a story that both lesbian and bisexual women (and everyone else!) can enjoy.

Turning up the Heat

By D Jackson Leigh

Heat, cold, rain, drought – weather drives life on a very basic level in all parts of the world.

Aching bones predict a coming cold snap, a herd of cows lying down (not just a few napping) portend impending rain, thunder in winter forecasts snow will follow seven to ten days later, and so forth.

And, any culture born from agricultural roots, like the Midwest and the South, have learned to respond accordingly. If winter’s coming to the Midwest and granny says to go ahead and dig her hole next to grandpa in the family cemetery before the ground freezes, you better do it. Everybody knows the old and infirm seem to drop along with the outdoor temperature every year. Likewise, heat, the most basic measure of Southern weather, generally slows everything down in the sultry states because we’re familiar with the dangers of dehydration and heat stroke.

Writers, however, turn up the heat to bring our stories to a boil rather than slow them. Heat between two characters is the heartbeat of a romance. Heat brings tingle to a sex scene. Heat accelerates the pace of the plot to a breathless ending.

SwelterConsidering that heat was the theme, my timing was a little off when I found my rhythm while writing Swelter.

I had signed a contract with a deadline, then procrastinated getting started.

I always intend to write during the summer months but find it difficult with so many book events during the warm months. I still work a full-time job that pays my mortgage, so my writing time is mainly on weekends. This past summer, I had six weekends in a row booked with travel. So, no writing.

Autumn was rolling in when I whipped out the first chapters to introduce my two characters to the readers and to each other. Then I suddenly had writer’s block over what to do next. I struggled through those fall months, then went to visit a close friend, VK Powell, for one of our frequent brainstorming sessions. She’s a master plotter and lives in an awesome high rise condo where one wall is all glass and looks out over a downtown city park. So, as is our custom, we imbibed – I’m partial to whiskey and she likes vodka – and brainstormed while I paced and stared out at the city lights. She was left with empty liquor bottles, and I went home filled with inspiration.

Only now, it was the dead of winter.

So, I jacked up the furnace and turned on the gas logs in the fireplace until I was sweating and The Terrors, my three rescued terrier mixes, had their tongues hanging out.

The heat building in Swelter is three-pronged: chemistry between August and Teal; temperatures baking the Texas Panhandle; and plot tension as danger escalates.

In a nutshell: Congressional aide Teal Giovanni is fleeing the media and her shattered life after her affair with a married senator makes prime time news. Betrayed by her lover/law partner, August Reese is hiding out at a small cattle ranch to testify against a drug kingpin. Attraction sparks when Teal’s aging Honda blows its engine on a steamy stretch of Texas blacktop, and she’s rescued by August. But just as that spark bursts into flame, their worst nightmare comes calling. Will they survive or swelter as the heat becomes unbearable?

Why the Texas Panhandle? I’ve always been fascinated by places like Caprock Canyon State Park, red rock giants carved out and standing tall against the skyline. Besides, what’s sexier than cowgirls in boots and chaps?

The book’s title? Well, when temperatures become too hot to withstand, it’s not uncommon to hear a Southerner to proclaim: “I’m just about to swelter.”

Since Swelter was written in winter, it only seems appropriate to have it turn up the heat with December release to warm your holiday. Hope you enjoy the ride.

 

Parting note: Leave a comment on the Bold Strokes blog site by 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, and I’ll announce two winners on Sunday, Dec. 11, to receive autographed copies (ebook copies if you live outside the U.S.) of Swelter.

Portals of the Past

By Kathleen Knowles

Awake Unto Me 300 DPIIn his terrific book, Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, Gary Kamiya had this to say about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake:
“The ruins looked like the bombed-out wastelands of Dresden, Tokyo or Hamburg in World war
II. It was the closest thing to an urban apocalypse this country has ever seen.”
As my readers, family and friends know, I love history, especially San Francisco history. It’s only natural I would write a story set during the 1906 earthquake, a seminal event in the history of San Francisco. When I was writing my first novel, Awake Unto Me, I took part in a ‘backstage’ tour of the botany collections of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Our tour was led by two veteran docents who told us a remarkable story about a woman named Alice Eastwood. The Cal Academy was then housed in a Market Street building in 1906 and was burned in the fire that began immediately after the earthquake. Most of its holdings were destroyed but the most precious parts of the plant collection, the type specimens, were saved by Alice Eastwood, CAS curator of botany. I saw some of the material in storage at the Academy during that tour. When I heard how she accomplished that feat, I thought, “That has to go into a novel.”
I was already planning to carry the characters in Awake Unto Me through the earthquake. Part of that planning including situating their home west of Van Ness where the post-earthquake fire was finally stopped. I knew I would need some new characters though. So there was one of my main characters, Alice Eastwood, fictionalized under the name Abigail Elliot. Her character and background were quite easy to put together since the Cal Academy archives house her papers. I spent happy hours reading them. There’s nothing in Alice Eastwood’s background to suggest she was a lesbian but she never married and claimed she had no idea how she would combine marriage and her career. So I used the lack of evidence about her personal relationships to draw my own conclusions.
The other main character is, of course, one of the many medical people I seem drawn to write about: Norah Stratton, a friend of one of Esther Strauss from A Spark of Heavenly Fire and a recent transplant from New York. Welcome to San Francisco, now here’s an earthquake for you! Needless to say, it’s a shock to poor Norah.
The problem with writing about the 1906 earthquake was exactly what aspects of that very complicated event to use. There’s much to choose from because the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire was a extremely well documented disaster. You could say it was the first globally known disaster and the media coverage at the time was overwhelming. Even the early movie technology of the time got into the act. I watched some silent films of the smoking ruins from the Library of Congress.
My recurring character Kerry is an employee of the Palace Hotel so there was the tragic story of the demise of that building. Her lover Beth is a doctor as are their friends Esther and Addison so that gives all of them a concrete role after the earthquake. In a disaster, doctors are going to be on the frontlines taking care of the victims. I got to find out a lot about the experiences of the San Franciscans after the earthquake and I was able to incorporate a lot into the story. One my favorite factoids: the downtown post office evaded the destruction and was able to conduct business almost normally in the chaotic weeks after the earthquake. I learned about which parts of the City got their water back and when thanks to a website called The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco which incorporates the records of the City water department from 1906.
As calamities have a way of doing, the 1906 earthquake throws my human characters’ lives into complete disarray. Some are left with their home intact but with serious injury. Some lose their homes but everyone’s life is upended one way or another. To write about being in an earthquake and then adjusting to life in its aftermath, I drew on my own experience going through the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. That was a surrealistic experience to say the least for those who were present. For the loved ones of San Franciscans who were anxiously trying to get news, it was terrifying.
My wife, Jeanette was my girlfriend of just four months in October 1989. She was on a jet flying to Germany when the earthquake hit. She and her friend Michael watched scenes of destruction on CNN with narration in German, while she frantically tried to call me and Michael tried to reach his dad who lived on Nob Hill. After an earthquake, the phone lines are jammed because everyone calls their friends and family to ask, “Did you feel that? Are you okay?” In Two Souls, my characters are not able to phone but they still try to check in with one another and tell their stories just as we twenty first century folks do.Two souls
After the earthquake, my friends and I had a cook out and listened to the radio and watched the helicopters fly over the dark City all night. I still have a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle “Earthquake Special” newspaper. The newspeople put it together using a generator and then handed out free copies on street corners the morning after the earthquake.
People who don’t live in California often express abject fear of earthquakes. Honestly, give me an earthquake that happens every 30 to 100 years over tornados and hurricanes which happen EVERY year.
The framing columns on the Two Souls book cover are a stylized rendering of a monument called the Portals of the Past. Amongst the many photographs and stories I came across during my research was the photo Arnold Genthe took of the ruins of the Townsend mansion on Nob Hill. In the book, I have Abigail and Norah actually come upon him engaged in this activity while they are out exploring the ruins. The only surviving structures on Nob Hill were this doorway and the outer masonry walls of the James Flood mansion on California Street. The 8 marble columns of the entryway were given to the City by Mrs, Townsend and in 1909 were relocated to the shore of Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park. They were named the Portals of Past and are thought of as the symbol of San Francisco’s rebirth after the earthquake. They are also serve as a reminder of what happened in 1906. I visit them every so often and wonder what it was like for San Franciscans back then. Two Souls is the concrete result of my musings.

Random Acts of Progress

By Aurora Rey

 

When I wrote stories as a child, I did so because it was a fun way to imagine experiences and adventures beyond my own. As I grew up, I came to understand how much more power stories had, both for the writer and those who read them. I spent a few years obsessed with the idea of being a writer, without writing much.

And then I went through a period of personal upheaval and soul searching and a divorce. As I came out the other side of that, I remembered how much writing meant to me. I started writing in earnest and somewhere along the way I found my voice.

It wasn’t for another couple of years that I began writing romance. Even now, with my third romance coming out in a few months, writing romance—lesbian romance, no less—feels like an act of defiance. A heady mix of hope and daring that says love matters. Queer voices matter. I matter.

This sentiment has felt especially important after the recent US election. Politics aside, the uptick in hate-fueled speech and actions demands a response. There has been a flurry of activity on my social media sites around the idea of doing something—attending a protest or calling congress or having hard conversations with family. There’s also been a lot of talk about loving more, of random acts of kindness. I like the philosophy of that, spreading love and joy to complete strangers. I don’t think we can have too much of that in the world.

I’m trying to do my part. On a recent trip to Louisiana, I left extra cash in my hotel room for the housekeeping staff and generous tips at restaurants and coffee shops. I made eye contact with strangers and smiled. I reached out to a few relatives I was inclined to avoid. I’ve called my senator. But there are days when it doesn’t feel like enough, when the impact feels too small.

I’ve decided to expand the idea slightly. I call it random acts of progress. Actions that have a concrete impact on issues I care about. Donations are part of it, because money matters. But it’s other things too—volunteering with the local refugee welcome organization or serving on the board of the center for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. It’s making a commitment to make things better for those least able to advocate for themselves. Even if those individual acts don’t feel like much. Just like random acts of kindness, they add up. That’s the whole point, right?

Crescent City ConfidentialAnd that brings me back to writing. I just sent off the final revisions for Crescent City Confidential and I’m nearing completion of my first draft of Summer’s Cove. As much as it feels sometimes like writing romances is the last thing I should be thinking about, I know that’s not true.

The simple act of writing is, in fact, doing something. Telling stories of love and hope, stories in which women, queers, and people of color save the day and live happily ever after, is progress. Until the day conversion therapy is a bad idea referenced in psychology textbooks, until no child fears coming out, until every family is treated with dignity, LGBTQ stories are an integral part of making the world a better place. And I’m proud to be part of it.

 


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