Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's Your Difficulty Level?

Science fiction author and all around smart guy John Scalzi has come up with an interesting metaphor for society--using a gaming framework. He maintains that a "Straight White Male" in the United States (one could extrapolate this to Western civilization in general) is playing on the easiest difficulty level. The program is set up to make it easier for him to excel at the game. By contrast, Scalzi says in his post, a "Gay Minority Female" is Hardcore.

Check it out: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Now this is an interesting way to look at the world, and is exactly the sort of intellectual discussion I love. Being a normal self-focused egotist, I naturally applied this framework to myself. "Straight White Female." Hmm... second easiest? Scalzi doesn't go there. "Straight White Female Packing A Few Extra Pounds"? Doesn't go there, either. Still, it's a fun look at a complex social flashpoint and Scalzi lays out a pretty sweet metaphor about how society loads the dice, so to speak.

I may have to work a little harder at it, but I... and all of us... are playing the game.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


If anyone's been wondering where I've been, I've been off doing the 3Rs--rest, relaxation, and research--in the Bermuda Triangle.  If you look really closely, you can see my cruise ship docked at the very tip of the J in this picture of Bermuda from space.  There's a lovely view of the airport at the upper right.  Anyway, after a week on the high seas, I'm home and brought back enough photos, books, condiments, memories and rum to fill at least a couple of stories. Indeed, I wrote parts of one about a shipwrecked young man and the pirate who seizes him as part of his spoils. Gotta love pirates, right?  Bermuda has a rollicking history of pirates and rogues, some of whom did very well for themselves.

I toured some really old houses, paying attention to construction and materials, and got hold of some books with old maps of the reefs and settlements, and also shipwrecks.  Good stuff. I'd learned years ago that William Shakespeare based The Tempest on the adventures of shipwrecked sailors in Bermuda, but it was fun to learn some of the stories behind the story.  Bermuda was called the Isle of Devils and caused the Spanish so much dread they failed to settle the islands for nearly a hundred years while they had the chance.  Eventually some English colonists on the way to Virginia shipwrecked on the island and discovered it was actually not such a bad place.  They moved on to Virginia (they were under contract, after all), but other English colonists came to settle Bermuda and that's why today people like me can go there and carry on meaningful conversations with the natives. Said natives are very friendly for people who live where the average price of a two bedroom, one bath house is $1.4 million.

The island is spectacularly beautiful, temperate, friendly and expensive.  I would love to return someday, rent a house for a year, and simply write.  Other writers have done it, so it could happen.  A girl can dream.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Cool Part of his Pillow - Interview with Rodney Ross

How does it feel to love someone madly for a long time, to have a perfect life with that someone . . . and then lose them?  Recently I had a chance to talk with Rodney Ross, author of The Cool Part of His Pillow, a novel just released by Dreamspinner Press.  I find that interesting people tend to write interesting books, so let's listen in on what Rodney has to say about his book, writing, and life.

I read the excerpt for The Cool Part of His Pillow (TCPohP).  It gave me a strong sense of Barry and Andy’s love and then hit me in the gut.  Is the book a romance, or a journey to recovery?  

I would say both. Barry Grooms is a success by any measure: expansive interior design gallery, 20-plus years of stability with partner Andy, financial security, he still has all of his own hair and teeth. Then everything changes when, on Barry’s 45th birthday, a horrendous construction crane collapse kills Andy and their two pugs.

His plunge into widowerhood is surreal – casseroles of sympathy, being offered someone else’s snotrag, a parasitic grief support group –  yet Barry is damaged, not destroyed, and as he slowly rebuilds a world largely destroyed, my hope is anyone who has experienced loss, felt backed into a corner, dealt with know-it-all-but-well-meaning-friends-and-relatives or retreated into denial, will find resonance.

It’s also funny, full of wicked observation. Not rimshot jokes nor Neil Simon-ish set-ups…more humor that naturally emerges from situations…placing two very different people in a room and letting them have at it…characters who don’t seem to have a self-edit chip in their head. Misery is so much more fun when sprinkled with the macabre or the politically-incorrect, the scatological or the blasphemous. Barry’s smartassedness, his skeptical eye rolls, are what ultimately save him.

I notice you have a book trailer.  For the new writers among us, would you tell us some of your thoughts on book trailers and why they make an effective marketing tool?

Actually, I have several TCPohP trailers; by going to YouTube, you can watch one, then access the rest, some teasers, others time-sensitive, a couple more general. Having come from -- or, rather, escaped -- the Advertising arena and its bloodlust, I know too well how society is visually-driven. And don’t we all love a good Coming Attraction at the local multiplex (after the 22 goddamn commercials for soft drinks and one-night-only opera telecasts we’ll never attend?) A carefully-crafted trailer can give the potential reader a hint of what’s to come, without spoilers or too much hyperbole. My endgame was to attract interest. I don’t need an Addy; I already have several.

Who designed the cover for your book and what do you like best about it?

Anne Cain, who does a lot of work for DSP. Beyond the literal emptiness of the bed, a pillow clearly not slept upon and a forlorn hand, I like the detachment…almost seen through parchment, from an impassive distance. I like how the wrinkled sheets trail down and recede into marbelization. The colors aren’t quite real. Nor is the character’s life after being thrust into the darkest recesses he could ever imagine.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?  What has been the best compliment?

The worst: being informed by a literary agent probably no older than my tweezers that my writing was “too jazzy” for her palate. I protested, “But I hate jazz!” I still don’t know what that means, but I do my best now to avoid mentioning saxophones and Ann Hampton Calloway as I wordsmith. What a load of horseshit. You may as well tell me you don’t like the way I type, it’s that impenetrable.

The best: a Key West, FL neighbor who was once a columnist for the Chicago Tribune telling me, upon reading the raw manuscript-- before I ever submitted it anywhere --  that TCPohP gave her an asthma attack. My new goal is to always make someone reach for an inhaler.

What aspect of your own life has most influenced your writing or storytelling?

Being a gay male, certainly, and permit me to be demure and evasive as I add one of a certain age, I wanted to voice something relevant to a certain demographic: loneliness borne of loss, not of abandonment or cheating or even illness, but unthinkable circumstance. I am remarkably fortunate to be with a man who has tolerated and treasured me for a very long time. If our relationship was measured in dog years, it would be something out of Jurassic Park. Having known this bliss, I wanted to talk about the absence of love after having had it…when AARP is about the only thing that may come courting. Love is visceral and tactile, as well as emotional, and its absence can cause as much physical as emotional distress. And I ain’t talking blue balls.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?  The least?

The challenge is always sitting down and writing, while also being depressingly aware that the final polish is so, so distant. Writing is so damned isolated, and isolating. A writer looks for distraction: the shit-laden litterpan to scoop, or sit-ups to attempt, a martini that’s just yelling to be shaken. I always have a notepad and pen, or a mini-cassette recorder, handy. I treat my muse like a sneeze: I gotta catch the spray when I can! 

That said, I cherish the ability to create and manipulate lives in the way we, of course, cannot make ours so malleable. The inclination to write is so embedded, I cannot imagine NOT writing. I was a creative child, self-isolating and brooding. Most is nature…a bit is nurture…all of it is heavy lifting.

What surprised you most about the process of getting a book to market?

Well, I’m still on the journey. I cannot begin to predict the turns, the fast stops, the backing-up I will have to do to push my novel in conjunction with Dreamspinner Press (DSP).

Writing letters of inquiry and sending novel samples – “send us your best chapter,” some implore, as though I can disconnect one from the other as a perfect stand-alone example of my ability – is especially brutal, one that embodies the word dread.

My favorite rejection letter was an E-mail from another literary agent (do you sense a trend here?). It was 3 words in response to what I thought was a succinct plot summary coupled with a witty turn of phrase or two and the first three chapters.

The E-mail read: Not for me

No greeting, no signature, not even a period. She didn’t have time to close the fucking sentence.

Any upcoming projects you would like to let us know about?

Beyond conceding that I AM at work on a new novel, that’s a big sssssssshhhhhh. I can say that it’s about bad luck, and good -- the paths chosen when fortune smiles on us, the desperate measures taken when it doesn’t. My sleep is haunted by it, which doesn’t make for a restful night with my partner, but that’s part of the process: the discovery, the layers and finding new possibilities.

Is there an author you would really like to meet and what would you talk about?

I always cite John Irving. The World According To Garp opened my eyes to possibilities in literature that didn’t exist to me prior. His subsequent work has been just as vital, and his style brings an empathy, clarity and humanity to the most unrelentingly cruel encounters and unexpected character pivots. I can only aspire to his literary prowess, and I would probably just weep copiously or lose control of my bowels in his presence, neither of which would make a favorable impression.

Time for expanding the bookshelf.  Name one book you recently read and loved.

Like the whore I pretend to be, I loved the trashy and salacious Full Service, by Scotty Bowers, the Hollywood hustler who serviced people like Cary Grant.  Whether it is true nor not is inconsequential. I crave a little dirt to sprinkle over my morning egg, and this tell-all supplied it.

Socks. . . something to wear with shoes, or the high point of your fashion day?

Socks? I live in Key West, Florida. What are socks?


Thanks, Rodney!

Here’s the blurb for The Cool Part of His Pillow, followed by a specially chosen, heartbreaking excerpt:

The midforties are that time in a gay man’s life when his major paradigm shifts from sexy to sensible. But when Barry Grooms's partner of twenty years is killed on Barry's forty-fifth birthday, his world doesn’t so much evolve as it does explode.

After navigating through the surreal conveyor belt of friends and family, he can't eat another casserole or swallow much more advice, and so, still numb, he escapes to Key West, then New York. He embraces a new mantra: Why the hell not? He becomes so spontaneous he's ready to combust. First, he gets a thankless new job working for a crazy lady in a poncho, then has too many drinks with a narcissistic Broadway actor. Next, it's a nude exercise class that redefines flop sweat, and from there he’s on to a relationship with a man twenty years his junior, so youthfully oblivious he thinks Karen Carpenter is a lesbian woodworker.

Yet no matter how great the retreat from the man he used to be, life's gravity spins Barry back to the town where he grew up for one more ironic twist that teaches him how to say good-bye with grace.

I push away the toss pillows plumped horizontally under the duvet to approximate a body alongside my own.
I hate this foam memory mattress. I wish we’d kept our very first lumpy, concave mattress. Andy’s dent would still be in it. I could sink into it, let it swallow me up.
I will never again hear him whisper into my ear. “Sleepy time now.”
I will never again feel his heartbeat when he wakes from nightmares, holding on to a spindle of our headboard.
I will never ever again kidnap the cool part of his pillow. It was just one push/pull in our 23 years of push/pull continuum. When my own was airless and warm, I would find that unoccupied part, I would slowly pull the pillow toward me until his shoulders grazed my breastbone, nestle my head behind his and go to sleep. It didn’t stay cool for long. I’d restlessly return to my own, or he’d wake enough to take it back with a grouchy harumph but two, three times a night my right hand, like a divining rod jerking toward a source of water, would go wandering for fresh, for safe, for cool. It was like winning a prize. I will miss those two big heads full of alpha male dreams sharing one pillow.
Now it’s all mine.
I can have as much cool as I want, can dominate every bit, which is very different. 
Again, I want to thank Rodney Ross for stopping by to brighten up this blog and provide a breath of fresh air!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

And Now for Something Different . . .

While searching through images of romantic sexiness in hope of finding an image I could use for two of my favorite characters in a bathtub clinch, I found this:

Yes!  A sex seat, commissioned by that portly, horny devil Edward VII circa 1890.  It allows for three-way oral sex and probably lots of other carnal variations.  More than that, though, it's a work of art.  

It's sexy; it's elegant; it promises hours of fun.  Naturally, I want one.  Can you imagine this beautiful velvet and gilt piece of fantasy in my living room?

"Oh my!  Is that . . ."

"Yes.  Yes, it is."

So of course, being an impulse shopper, I went in search of a sex seat I could call my own, envisioning every possible manner of delicious decadence.  Alas, they don't make sex seats like they used to.  Modern variations look like this:

Not bad, though it more resembles exercise equipment than furniture.  There's a kind of modernist elegance.  But where's the fantasy?  Where's the naughty fun?

"Oh my!  Is that . . ."

"Yes.  Yes it is."

"How nice!  You can exercise in your living room!"

Needless to say, I'm still looking . . .

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nighttime Wishes -- Interview With MA Church

Good morning! I'm very happy to have an amazing author, MA Church, on the hook today.  My first encounter with her fiction was through her gay male science-fiction story, The Harvest.  Well, she’s done it again.  She’s here to tell us about herself and her new science fiction M/M romance, Nighttime Wishes, just published by Romance First.  There's also a sequel, Nighttime Dreams, in the works. Let’s have a listen to what she has to say!

So tell us about Nighttime Wishes.  What’s it about?  Give us something fun, something sexy and cue us in on what it was that led you to write this book.

Nighttime Wishes is about an alien that has been watching this human, Shawn, since he was a small child. And Shawn is very aware of that fact. When Shawn is old enough Ziang, a Maz’Rarian warrior from the planet Maz’Rar, comes for him. And ends up crashing on Earth near Shawn’s home—thanks to a winged vertebrate, lol. In other words, he had a run in with a bird.

There’s a lot of humor in this story, lol, from the pet name Shawn calls Ziang to Shawn’s reactions to ‘freaky alien things’ as he calls it. This story was actually written with the idea of subbing it to an anthology, but the thing just kept growing, lol. It didn’t take long for me to figure out these characters had a story to tell!

This is a small excerpt of one of their encounters:

Standing in the pool of light, he looked up. A slight breeze ruffled his hair, his bangs fluttering in his eyes. The beam of light came from straight above him, shining down from… Shawn gulped as the word UFO bounced in his head. 
Then the light turned from pale yellow to a pasty blue.

This was something new. The soft thrum of an engine and waves of energy danced in the bright light that surrounded him. Little sparks of blinking lights popped, making the hair on his body stand on end—that wasn’t the only thing standing. A warm tingle of energy raced through his body, centering right at his pelvis.

His body buzzed with a low-grade hum that made him yearn. Shawn was hot and itchy, and an insistent ache in his dick wouldn’t go away. That had never happened before. An orgasm was building; a whirlpool of desire deep within, waiting to tackle him. His cock was painfully hard; it throbbed in time to the beat of his heart.

You write gay male fiction, but you’re neither gay nor a male.  So what’s your biggest challenge in writing m/m and how do you overcome it?

I guess getting the mechanics (sex) right is the most important thing to me. Since I’m not a guy I have no idea what it *really* feels like to have the prostate worked, lol. Oh sure, I’ve read about it, but firsthand knowledge is better, lol. That leads me to the second half of the question. I’m not gay. But in the two years I’ve been writing gay male stories I’ve made several friends that are gay and had very frank conversations with them, lol. And I have found this: no two people are the same, and love is all that matters.

In any of your stories, what was your favorite chapter to write, and why?

I have a series running on my blog called The Yellow Rope. There’s a chapter where one of the main characters—Luke—is denied orgasm after being teased. He makes a comment to his partner—Gage—about how doing that probably just killed off some of his brain cells, lol.

And, of course, there’s a funny story behind that. *Grin* While I was working on that chapter my sixteen year old walked across the den, talking on her cell. Now, I’m sitting on the couch, writing the part where Luke is being teased unmercifully, lol. And my darling daughter tells this friend of hers that talking to them is killing off brain cells. OMG, I just about died! Next thing I know that little saying is in the story, lol.

Take one of your stories and tell us what you would change about it if you would do it over again.

I actually have the chance to do just that—a do over. My first ebook, Darkness Awaits, came off the market not long ago. The publisher went out of business. I have the rights and the cover now. Just as soon as I have time, lol—yeah right, time—there are some spots I’d like to redo from some of the reviews I’ve read on it.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Well, from readers I’ve run the gamut from you suck to have you lost your mind, lol. But then, I’ve also received emails that were so touching, so beautiful, I’ve cried.

From editors I haven’t really received tough criticism. Mistakes were pointed out, of course; that’s their job. And I’ve tried to learn from the editor I’ve worked with. But honestly, as far as any criticism from editors go, nothing really comes to mind that… shall we say, haunts me.

As far as the best compliment—that’s hard. I guess having authors I respect tell me that something I wrote was good, or hot, or funny, means a lot. Having fans email me wanting to know when something is going to be released keeps me going. J

Have you ever been surprised by a controversy among fans or reviewers - for example, you created a character without thinking too much about what people would think of him, and found some readers loved him and some hated him?

Have I ever, lol. Judas, from Kiss Me Deadly sure stirred things up. There is a religious angle—Judas, Satan and Jesus. Plus, it was also violent and dark.  I used the betrayal of Christ to explain how vampires were created and explore the why of some of the myths that center around them.

Folks either understood it was a story about redemption, that even a contemptible creature such as Jude could change; or they hated it with a passion. One comment said I had balls down to my knees, lol. Now that made my day! *Grin*

Which do you find most helpful: fans or critics?

Both actually. Both can give good advice.

Tea or coffee?

LOL! Neither. Tea makes me climb the walls, plus I can’t sleep. And I don’t like coffee—never acquired that addiction in college, lol.

I’m a Coke girl all the way!

Name one book you recently read and loved.

*Bangs head against keyboard* Oh come on! Just one??? That’s like telling me I can only eat one piece of chocolate! A very small piece of chocolate at that! *Sigh*

I did read this free short story I downloaded from Goodreads not long ago called Yes, Sir by Ellis Carrington. I was completely blown away and now I’m a fan of that author’s work.

Who is Kitty-Kitty and if he could speak to us, what would he say about you?

Oh Heavenly day, lol. Where to start? Well, he showed up in our garage Halloween night. I really think he was dumped. Since he didn’t have a collar, we called him Kitty-Kitty. And the name stuck, lol. I guess he was about 7 months old. Now, I love cats, but I’m big-time allergic to them. So, the deal was he’d stay in the garage.

Yeah, right. Next thing I know the hubby is sneaking him in. Really? Like I’m not going to notice this? Okay yeah, I didn’t put up much of a fight either, lol. I just got on an OTC med. *Sigh* The things I do for him. (You decide if I mean the cat or the hubby. *grin*)

Oh no, no, no, no. *Laugh* My little writing buddy doesn’t tell ‘tails’ out of school. *Wink*

Fact is, he’d probably tell y’all I’m a bit spacey. But that’s no secret, lol. Talk to me on FB or twitter and that comes across really quick! And he’d probably say that I talk to my characters… and they talk back. A few tend to get mouthy if they feel like I’m ignoring them. We have discussions, lol.

Hey! Sometimes I actually win these discussions! *Rolls eyes* My Muse is smirking.

So there you have it, straight from the author.  I hope you've had as much fun getting to know MA Church as I have!